Prom attendees’ hands are marked according to COVID-19 vaccination status — and parents, students are angry

News & Politics

A New Hampshire high school marked the hands of last weekend’s prom attendees according to their COVID-19 vaccination status, a move that has upset a number of parents and students — as well as a state lawmaker — but is being defended by the principal,
WBTS-CD reported.

What are the details?

Republican state Rep. Melissa Litchfield wrote on her
Facebook page about the growing controversy surrounding Exeter High School’s prom and told the station she had been contacted by more than a dozen parents.

Litchfield noted to WBTS that some parents and students are upset over the decision to mark the hands of unvaccinated students as they walked into the senior prom: “Children that were not vaccinated were written on in black Sharpie on their hands, and those that were vaccinated had some type of a red marker put on them.”

She shared photos with the station showing hands of prom attendees marked in black.

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Image source: WBTS-CD video screenshot

A statement from School Administrative Unit 16 said “dancing was divided among three dance floors. During the dancing, after every few songs they were asked to raise their hands to determine who they were around,” the New Hampshire Union Leader reported.

One person who complained to Litchfield said the prom attendees were treated “like prisoners in Nazi Germany. Marking them, thus singling them out, and then having to raise their hands is beyond tolerable,” according to her Facebook post.

“You had to produce your papers, and if you didn’t produce your papers, you were branded with a black Sharpie,” Litchfield added to WBTS. “What does that mean to you? I’m just gonna let it sit there.”

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State Rep. Melissa LitchfieldImage source: WBTS-CD video screenshot

‘Parents are afraid to speak up’

The station reported that parents and students who contacted Litchfield refused to go on camera over fear of retaliation from the school district.

“I’m just here because parents are afraid to speak up, and they needed a voice, and I understand,” Litchfield added to WBTS.

What did school officials have to say?

The district told the station that marking prom attendees’ hands was part of the school’s contact tracing system that allowed all students to attend the event whether or not they had been vaccinated.

“Our student and parent feedback has been extremely positive regarding the prom experience,” principal Mike Monahan said in a statement to WBTS. “We are aware that some concerns have been expressed that students were singled out or had their privacy violated. We made every effort possible — while adhering to contact tracing guidelines — to ensure that this did not happen. We hope the community will understand that while no model is perfect, this model let the students enjoy a close to normal and highly desired experience to cap off their senior year. That’s the memory we want to leave them with.”

This district added to the station that students were made aware of the contact tracing system when they registered for prom — but Litchfield said parents didn’t know and are frustrated they couldn’t speak out beforehand.

Anything else?

SAU 16 said the list of prom attendees didn’t contain any personally identifiable information regarding student vaccinations and did not list numbers assigned to students, the paper noted.

“Only a single set of cards with this information exists for tracking purposes, and the class advisor was the only individual that possessed them,” SAU 16 noted, according the Union Leader. “Those cards will be destroyed in the next few days. As a result, there will be no unique identifiers that can be tied back to students who were unable to show proof of vaccination.”

The SAU 16 statement said the prom — which attracted more than 300 attendees — was held outside under a tent, the paper added.

“No contract tracing system is perfect for crowds this large and not all students could be traced in a prom environment,” the SAU 16 statement added, according to the Union Leader. “However, without a contact tracing system, all attendees would have had to be quarantined if there was a positive case tied back to the event.”

SAU 19 told the paper that as of Thursday no COVID-19 cases associated with the prom had been reported.

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