Montreal

Quebec gives high school seniors green light for proms and graduation ceremonies

Last month, the Quebec government dew ire from school communities when it nixed proms and limited graduation ceremonies to events among class bubbles. Now proms will move forward under tents without masks or distancing.

Masks and distancing will not be required at dances, but graduation ceremonies will have some requirements

Proms have already been held in places like El Paso, Texas, but Quebec is another story as the government has been reluctant to allow the annual tradition. (Paul Ratje/AP Photo)

Quebec's high school graduates won't have to hold a virtual prom again this year, or try to organize secret parties away from the watchful eye of authorities.

The province's public health director, Dr. Horacio Arruda, said on Tuesday that proms can be held outdoors, under a tent, with no more than 250 people as of July 8.

Masks and physical distancing won't be a requirement as he expects most 12 to 17-year-olds will have had their first vaccine dose by then, he said.

"Youth have a better response and immunology than older people so probably after a first dose, if they wait 14 days or three weeks, they're going to be most fully protected — probably over 90 per cent," he  said.

The province will also allow parents to attend graduation ceremonies as long as distancing is enforced. 

Arruda says proms are different from weddings or funerals because the attending students are all in a low-risk age group. 

Students protested prom cancellation

Last month, the Quebec government nixed proms and limited graduation ceremonies to in-school events among class bubbles as public health officials were still concerned about the spread of COVID-19.

The decision stirred controversy across the province, sparking outcry from students, parents and even some school officials. At least one petition was launched, and protests were held in front of the National Assembly and at schools.

For example, students from Paul-Hubert high school demonstrated on Friday in front of their school in Rimouski, Que.

They were demanding the right to hold a prom in compliance with health restrictions. They wore white sweaters to express those demands and encouraged all Quebec students do the same.

Dr. Horacio Arruda, Quebec's director of public health, says teens are already a low-risk age group and most will have had their first vaccine dose by July 8. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

Meanwhile, police services were told to watch for clandestine celebrations and one off-the-grid party led to some serious trouble for students in Alma, Que., last weekend.

Two Secondary 5 classes at Jean-Gauthier school were ordered into a 14-day quarantine after getting caught by police holding an end-of-the-year party of their own — a party which was attended by a COVID-19-positive student.

'Better than I could have hoped,' says student

Emma Pomponi, a member of the student council at Lester B. Pearson High School in Montréal-Nord, said this last-minute announcement is both exciting and a bit overwhelming as girls can spend months planning out their dress, makeup and hair for the dance.

"The fact that Legault said this day will pretty much be restriction-free, I was like, oh my God, this was even better than I could have hoped for," she said.

"Honestly, the thing I'm most happy about is I will get to see some people I haven't seen all year."

On top of all that, she said she couldn't even have a sweet 16 birthday party because of all the public health restrictions.  Allowing prom, she said, "is kind of making up for all the things we've missed out on because of COVID."

Quebec school administration association 'stunned'

Quebec's school administration association said in statement that Montreal school officials were not consulted in the matter and there simply isn't enough time to plan for proms which involve more than just putting up decorations. 

With proms cancelled, there have been no efforts to organize parents, students and stakeholders to put together elaborate events, the association says.

On top of all that, says the association's chair, Kathleen Legault, planning a prom after July 8 will be made even more difficult by the fact that many staff members will already be on vacation.

She said the news of allowing proms without restrictions left the association "stunned" and in "disbelief." Not only is the association worried about student safety, but also about the amount of work that will go into hosting such events while, at the same time, schools are trying to co-ordinate vaccination efforts.

"These announcements will generate expectations, frustration and overload — completely unnecessary pressure after 15 months of extreme conditions in schools," Legault says in the statement.

Dr. Cécile Tremblay, a microbiologist and infectious diseases specialist at the CHUM, said Quebec public health's decision to allow proms and graduation ceremonies makes sense.

There was a lot of pressure from students to allow the celebrations to be held, Tremblay said, and this decision is a compromise that allows them to experience that end-of-the-year tradition.

"There is a risk of community transmission, but the fact that community transmission is very low at this point, and the fact that they are going to be vaccinated .... will lower that risk," she said, as will holding the events outside.

with files from Sharon Yonan-Renold, The Canadian Press and Radio-Canada

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