Nova Scotia

N.S. parents, students call for 2021 prom and grad guidelines

As high school graduation season draws closer, parents and students in Nova Scotia are calling on the province to release guidelines so they have a chance to fundraise and organize their own events.

With just over two months left in the school year, plans are up in the air

Grade 12 students Elijah Walsh, left, and his girlfriend Grace Brown in their graduation gowns at Lockview High School. (Elijah Walsh)

As high school graduation season draws closer, parents and students in Nova Scotia are calling on the province to release guidelines so they have a chance to fundraise and organize their own events.

Natasha Wagg is a Lockview High School parent who has been trying to get straight answers about what to expect this spring. She said they haven't been given any details yet, since their Fall River school is also waiting to hear about plans from the provincial government.

"There's just so many questions. And we're really just hoping the government will work with us and, you know, give us some sort of guidepost so we know that we can start planning this," Wagg said.

With no word on how many students could attend a physically distanced prom or grad event in a ballroom or large arcade, or what that might look like, Wagg said they can't start fundraising or going to local sponsors.

"That really kind of limits our options of what we can do," she said.

In 2020, the province allowed graduations between June 8-30 under strict conditions, and all were based around a drive-in concept.

Proms were held virtually last May, where students across Nova Scotia and Canada got dressed up to dance along with an online concert featuring prizes.

Natasha Wagg is a parent of a Lockview High School 2021 grad. She's pushing for the province to release any guidelines or rules about what graduation and prom could look like this year. (Natasha Wagg)

But Wagg is confident they can do better this year, due to low COVID-19 case numbers in the province and fewer restrictions. Even if they couldn't hold a prom dance, there might be opportunities for a type of grand march, or fun event like a comedian or hypnotist, Wagg said.

Besides fewer options, limited fundraising means students might be on the hook to pay for prom tickets or other events themselves. That might put the celebrations out of reach for some, she said.

Wagg said even an indication on whether or not the high schools can be involved as a venue or organizer for prom would be ideal. Their Lockview grad class has an engaged group of parents willing to handle any events, Wagg said, but they can't do anything until they know more.

After recently writing a letter with detailed questions to her local MLA, Wagg said she was directed to send them instead to the provincial COVID-19 stream because they would have the best answers.

She also had some suggestions, including setting up asymptomatic rapid testing for high schoolers before an event.

Elijah Walsh, a Grade 12 student at Lockview, is also hoping for some clarity after what has been a tough year without any of the fun milestones the end of high school brings.

His girlfriend Grace Brown is currently looking for a prom dress, and Walsh said he's planning to buy a suit soon but that's as far as he can plan for now.

Nova Scotia grads are buying their dresses for 2021, unsure of what prom might look like. (Brianne Bowen/The Associated Press)

Walsh suggested Public Health come up with a few contingency plans for prom and grad, like other provinces' graded systems of red, orange or yellow, that would fall into place depending on the state of the virus in June.

"That's really all I'm asking for. Like to have that little, little bit of certainty as to what would happen is enough for me to just like step back, and just take a breath," Walsh said.

A spokesperson for the Halifax Regional Centre for Education confirmed in an email that all regions are "awaiting direction" on grad and prom events for 2021.

Violet MacLeod, a spokesperson for the Education Department, said in an email this week that their focus is on academic achievement and recognition. 

Nova Scotia schools will hold grad recognition ceremonies to recognize academic achievements, MacLeod said, but "it is still too early" to say what that will look like. They are discussing the issue with public health officials, principals and administrators. 

When it comes to proms, public health officials "will establish the conditions and guidance for any events that may take place outside of school," MacLeod said. She added the department will share more information with schools as soon as it can.

Nova Scotia Chief Medical Officer Dr. Robert Strang said in a recent press conference that proms will probably be left to families and communities, but offered no other details.

"If you're saying that's going to be our responsibility, give us some information," Wagg said.

Lockview's grad class this year is fairly large — about 350, Wagg said — which complicates things.

Current provincial guidelines around gathering limits say that indoor events and activities hosted by a recognized businesses or organizations must allow for physical distancing, and are limited to 50 per cent of the venue's capacity, up to a maximum of 100 people.

But Public Health has made exceptions before, which Wagg is hoping could happen again.

She pointed out that hundreds of students are together in their hallways and classrooms every day while masked, and the province has repeatedly said that schools are safe.

"We can take this same safe sort of process, and translate that to an outside venue and make it work," she said.