Prom back on

Published 3:40 pm Thursday, May 20, 2021

Isle of Wight County Schools has reversed course on its decision to cancel this year’s prom.

The formal dance will now be held May 22 at the Cypress Cove Country Club in Southampton County for Windsor High School students, and June 5 outside the school for Smithfield High School students.

As of late April, Gov. Ralph Northam’s Executive Order No. 72 was still capping public and private in-person gatherings, to include school dances, at 50 individuals if indoors and 100 if outdoors.

“We were focused on the indoor limits but realized we could hold it outdoors and accommodate more students,” said division spokeswoman Lynn Briggs. “The decision was made last week after interest in students and determining venue availability.”

Northam amended his order to lift the state’s mask mandate at midnight May 15, though they’re still required for K-12 public school students due to the low rates of children who have been vaccinated. He also plans to ease all distancing and capacity restrictions May 28, two weeks earlier than planned, though only 250 tickets are available for Smithfield High’s prom.

Neelie Harris, a junior at Smithfield High who serves as the school’s student liaison to Isle of Wight County’s School Board, recalls her disappointment upon learning in April that the division was planning to cancel prom for the second year in a row due to COVID-19 restrictions.

“Prom is a big thing when you are in high school and it is something you are really excited about and can not wait for when you are a kid,” Harris said. “I was supposed to plan prom and throw it for the seniors. We already had a theme picked out and everything so it was a little disheartening.”

But it also led to SHS senior Madison Holston and her friends taking matters into their own hands.

The group took it upon themselves to arrange a private dance May 15 at the Cypress Creek Golfer’s Club’s new outdoor pavilion. According to Cypress Creek employees, about 60 seniors and their dates attended, bringing the total number gathered to around 125. Among the organizers was Kyera Gambill, who had previously started an online petition to permit in-person attendance at Smithfield High’s last home football game of the season. Gambill’s efforts paid off when school officials decided to permit up to 100 seniors in the stands of Packer Field during the April 2 game, though the game itself ended up being an inter-squad blue versus white match due to a member of the scheduled visiting team testing positive for COVID-19.

Harris says she’s excited that Smithfield’s official prom is no longer canceled, but also admits to being a little scared, since she and her class are still in charge of planning it with less than a month to do so.

“In ‘normal’ times we would start planning in February,” she said.