Every cloud has a silver lining, goes the old saw, and for Franklin County High School seniors, the silver lining in the COVID-19 pandemic could involve a lakefront prom.
During Monday’s regular meeting of the Franklin County School Board, high school principal Jon Crutchfield described the challenges of finding an outdoor venue to host a socially-distanced prom for the 478-strong senior class.
“Somebody recommended Parkway Marina,” Crutchfield said. Situated on a 5-acre peninsula on the Bedford County side of Smith Mountain Lake, the marina turned out to be “perfect for a prom.”
He elaborated, “You can control who goes in and out,” and noted that the marina’s owner has been enthusiastic about helping the kids, offering a deal that made it “cheaper to go there than to host it in our Central Gym.”
Crutchfield also gave the school board the proposed date, time and place for the district’s socially distanced 2021 high school graduation: June 10, 7 p.m., in the school’s Cy Dillon Stadium. The graduation ceremony will take place “rain or shine,” he said.
“I can have 30% of my stadium capacity,” he said. “I think we’re going to give every graduate three tickets, and that’s going to be right at that capacity limit, so we feel really, really good about it.”
The high school plans for the prom to take place May 15. With both events, organizers are gambling on good weather.
Holding the prom at the marina raised a security issue of a kind Crutchfield had not ever needed to contemplate before: “Oh my gosh, what if kids show up by boat?” The marina, after all, features docks and beaches.
However, the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources has volunteered three conservation officers, one on a personal watercraft and two in a boat, to control traffic along the shoreline, at no cost to the school. “It seems like everything has really fallen in line here,” Crutchfield said.
Monday’s school board meeting was quite tranquil, in no small part because the debate over how often to hold in-person classes during the COVID-19 pandemic has ended. On March 29, all schools returned to a five-day a week schedule for in-person learning.
That same day, a letter went out to parents that eight high school students had tested positive for COVID-19, and that seven of those cases were related, and thus considered an outbreak by the Virginia Department of Health. People in the high school community who had been directly exposed were notified and told to quarantine. The high school did not close.
Jason Guilliams, the district’s director of operations, mentioned the outbreak Monday while going over COVID-related statistics with the board. The spread of the virus among those with connected cases did not necessarily take place on school property, he said.
The school system had a total of 29 positive cases in March, with only four so far in April, Guilliams said. More than 800 of the district’s 1,250 employees have been fully vaccinated. “Because we are vaccinated, if we do become exposed, we’re less likely to lose our staff to quarantine.”
Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released information earlier this month that the virus is rarely spread through contact with contaminated surfaces, Guilliams said the school’s rigorous cleaning protocols will not change. “We’ve had success at what we’re doing, so right now we’re just going to stay the course.”