Almost every person who attended public high school has a story about prom: dress shopping, asking out a date, over-the-top photo shoots, after parties, the list goes on.
In 2020, just two months into the COVID-19 pandemic, no one was surprised when the big event was cancelled at almost every school in the state. But one year later, when most districts are able to host prom, students who have chosen to continue distance learning may still be left out.
“I understand that the school wants to abide by COVID-19 guidelines, but it is completely unacceptable and unfair that distance learners are not invited to prom,” said Leah Verrilli, a senior at Shelton High School. “I feel like the school is punishing distance learners for not coming to school.”
Although prom may seem like a singular event, for school districts it is considered an extracurricular activity, like soccer or drama club. In a typical school year, any student who stays home from school cannot participate in an extracurricular event.
But given that as many as half of students in some districts have chosen to learn from home, eligibility for the prom has been left to the discretion of the school districts, according to the state Department of Education.
“Districts may choose to require that, in order for students to participate in school activities not related to the core, students must be attending in school in-person and not have opted into remote learning programming,” according to the guidelines released by the State Department of Education in July 2020.
In Shelton and East Lyme, remote learners will not be attending the prom this year.
Verrilli said she believes prom should be an exception to the rule.
“Juniors and seniors have been hit especially hard during the pandemic and they deserve to be able to have their prom,” she said.
Verrilli even started a petition in an attempt to convince the administration that students like her should go to prom. It just seems unfair, she said, that she can’t attend the big event while remote learners in Old Saybrook, Region 4 and Stonington still can.
Even in districts like Lyme-Old Lyme where distance learners have been prevented from participating in sports, students like Verrilli are allowed to attend prom and other end-of-year activities, said James Wygonik, principal of Lyme-Old Lyme High School.