NH school marks hands of unvaccinated students at prom for contact tracing

EXETER, New Hampshire — A New Hampshire high school required unvaccinated students attending senior prom to mark the back of their hand with a number for contact tracing.

Then, as more than 300 attendees danced on three dance floors, “after every few songs they were asked to raise their hands to determine who they were around,” Exeter High School said in a statement regarding its senior prom held outdoors under a large tent on June 4.

No COVID cases have been traced back to the prom, the district said.

The process sparked some concerns by some that students were singled out or had their privacy violated, Exeter High Principal Mike Monahan said in a statement.

“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,” Monahan said. “That’s the memory we want to leave them with.”

Overall, student and parent feedback “has been extremely positive regarding the prom experience,” Monahan said.

David Ryan, the school district’s superintendent, said the district “will be conducting an internal audit of the processes that the school developed and used at prom.”

“We are very aware of the concerns that have been expressed regarding the contact tracing plan at the Exeter High School prom” and that they “take these concerns very seriously.”

The district said the contact tracing program was put in place at the prom so all seniors could participate without requiring masks.

Students were notified about this and as they registered, they were asked for vaccination information, the district said. Students who were unable to provide a vaccination card because they did not have or share a card or had not completed the full vaccination process had a number written on their hand.

“No contract tracing system is perfect for crowds this large and not all students could be traced in a prom environment. 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,” the district said.

A single set of cards with student vaccination information used for tracking purposes during the prom will be destroyed in the next few days, school officials said.

“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 district said.

Ryan said the focus now needs to be on the upcoming senior graduation this weekend “and ensuring that our seniors have a positive experience as they close their chapter on high school after an extremely challenging 16 months in a pandemic.”

Exeter High School’s graduation ceremony will be held outdoors this weekend, “with physical distancing as our health and safety guideline,” Ryan said.

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