New Hampshire school embroiled in prom vaccination controversy

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A New Hampshire high school has received some community backlash after it marked the hands of unvaccinated students with a marker for contact-tracing purposes at their outdoor prom on June 4.

Republican New Hampshire state Rep. Melissa Litchfield, who also serves as chair of the Brentwood School Board, highlighted parent concerns with the Exeter High School event in a June 8 Facebook post.

“I have had some constituents write to me angry about some things that went on at [Exeter’s prom]. These complaints revolved around confidentially surrounding those who did and did not receive the COVID 19 vaccine, and the labeling that came along with that,” she wrote, adding later that she would appreciate more information from anyone with information on the matter.

One parent wrote to Litchfield saying Exeter High students “who weren’t vaccinated had a number written on them in Sharpie.” 

“If they were on the dance floor they had to raise their hands after every three songs so their numbers could be recorded by other underclass students for contact tracing purposes,” the parent wrote, according to Litchfield. 

New Hampshire School Administrative Unit (SAU) 16 Superintendent David Ryan said in a Friday statement that the school district will be conducting an internal audit of its contact-tracing efforts at prom.

“We are very aware of the concerns that have been expressed regarding the contact tracing plan at the Exeter High School prom,” Ryan said in a Friday statement. “Right now, our focus needs to be on graduation and ensuring that our seniors have a positive experience as they close their chapter on high school after an extremely challenging 16 months in a pandemic.”

Exeter High School Principal Mike Monahan said the school is “aware that some concerns have been expressed that students were singled out or had their privacy violated.”

“We made every effort possible – while adhering to contact tracing guidelines – to ensure that this did not happen,” he said. “We hope the community will understand that while no model is perfect, this model let the students enjoy a close to normal and highly desired experience to cap off their senior year. That’s the memory we want to leave them with.”

The school’s prom information website noted that contact tracing would be mandatory at the event but did not say exactly in what capacity.

“Students will social distance during all events at the prom. Because we are allowing students to dance, it is not the expectation that students will social distance while dancing. There are three dance floors and students who are on each floor will be recorded at regular intervals,” the website’s “contact tracing” section reads.

The page continues: “It is suggested that students rotate dance floors in order to avoid close contact with other students. It is essential that students comply with this contact tracing process. Students who do not comply will not be allowed to dance and may be asked to leave the prom early.”

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