Palo Alto Unified Superintendent Don Austin is asking for patience from parents who've been lobbying for the district to organize a prom this spring and citing other districts that have already announced their events.
Austin said at Tuesday's board meeting that secondary school principals have expressed confusion recently on what the current COVID-19 guidelines allow for larger in-person school events, and that some "volunteers" have jumped the gun on plans that are still restricted by public health mandates.
In response, Austin sent a letter Tuesday to secondary staff and families stating there will be a pause in planning as district leaders meet with principals this Thursday to resume discussions on large in-person events.
With less than two months left of the spring semester, Austin recently confirmed that in-person graduations will be brought back for the departing 2021 classes. But for the district parents who are pushing for the return of more end-of-year activities like prom, the news did little to placate their frustrations.
One group of parents submitted a letter recently to the district stating if the Associated Student Bodies of the two high schools are unable to or not interested in coordinating a prom, "there are many Palo Alto class of 2021 parents that are willing to coordinate," with a hashtag signed at the bottom: #Letthemprom.
Austin revealed his own quiet frustrations with the request as he shared current countywide stats on the limited number of vaccinated local residents and the capacity restrictions of outdoor gatherings.
"Outdoor gatherings are still capped at 50 individuals, so we're not sure where some of these activities are going to fit in. We have put all our attention into graduation, in person," he said.
Private events or conferences that include pre-purchased tickets or a defined guest list, which the state health department outlines as a few means that can reduce risk, have higher capacity limits. And those limits can also change depending on whether guests can show proof of a negative COVID-19 test or full vaccination.
In the orange tier, where the county currently remains, outdoor gathering capacity increases from 50 people to 100 if the event uses any of the state-provided methods to reduce risk of COVID-19 transmission. Guests capacity increases even further to 300 people if they're all tested negative or have completed vaccination. In the yellow tier, gatherings increase to 200 people and 400 under the same conditions
The superintendent also dismissed comparisons, from some community members, to other neighboring districts that have announced prom plans for the semester. In a call with an unnamed superintendent, Austin said that the other district's end-of-year event is hardly an actual prom.
"It's listed as prom, (but) it is not a prom," he said. "It's a bunch of tables out on a field with some activities."
Mountain View High School has advertised an in-person prom with tickets on sale, but the event will be restricted to seniors only, according to Ava Kopp, a senior and president of the school's Associated Student Body, who spoke with the Weekly's sister publication, the Mountain View Voice, for a separate story on the school's first day of reopening. An outdoor casino-themed night with games is planned, she said, but no dancing will be allowed.
Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by Palo Alto Online, the Mountain View Voice and the Almanac here.