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Ocean City to Murphy: Expand outdoor gathering limits for proms and graduations

Ocean City to Murphy: Expand outdoor gathering limits for proms and graduations


Ashley Devlin walks the red carpet Wednesday by the arch of the old Ocean City High School.

Ocean City students and school officials are calling on Gov. Phil Murphy to expand outdoor gathering limits ahead of the 2021 prom season.

A petition started by a high school student in Ocean City, Summer Raab, has garnered 755 signatures and asks the state to allow “all seniors to be able to attend prom.”

“Just recently we started school again five days a week. Over 1,200 kids are inside with masks on. The new rule is only 200 kids allowed at prom OUTSIDE,” Raab wrote in her petition. “There are 333 kids in our graduating class. If 1,200 kids can be inside with no ventilation why can’t 333 kids attend their first and last ever prom?”

Last year, most schools canceled proms for their high school students as the yearly spring event coincided with the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and statewide shutdown in New Jersey. Some schools found creative solutions to offer students in lieu of the formal year-end dance.

Middle Township hosted its “front porch prom,” inviting students to dress up and dance on their front porches, while After Prom Committee members drove around and handed out prizes. Ocean City held a red carpet event similar to a promenade for its seniors, inviting them to dress to impress and be recognized.

This year, districts are being more creative, and many, including Ocean City, are holding their prom outdoors. Ocean City’s is scheduled for May 22 on its football field. Others districts, like Greater Egg Harbor Regional, which operates three area high schools, will offer two prom sessions at each school to give all students an opportunity to attend.

{span style=”background-color: #ffffff;”}The petition was started after news spread around the Ocean City School District that prom would be limited to a lottery this year because of the outdoor limits still in place due to the pandemic.{/span}

Ocean City’s superintendent and school board president have also sent a letter to the state requesting Murphy to exempt high school proms and graduations from the current 200-person outdoor event limit.

“If you cannot grant this request, we ask that you significantly raise the capacity limit to ensure that a school’s full class of seniors can attend prom and graduate tighter — as one united group,” reads the letter from Superintendent Kathleen Taylor and school board President Joseph Clark.

The letter cites weddings as being exempt from the 200-person limit under current state rules, and says the students who are attending prom already interact on a daily basis within the schools.

“There is no added risk in allowing these same students to assemble outdoors for event that will provide them with more traditional school experiences,” the letter states.

At a COVID-19 response briefing earlier this month, Murphy indicated changes would likely be coming soon.

“We definitely will be updating guidance on graduations and proms. I’ll be very surprised if our numbers don’t go up,” Murphy said April 12. He said Wednesday during another briefing he expected to provide updated guidance on reopening the state next week.

On March 29, Murphy signed an executive order that increased outdoor gathering limits from 25 to 200, exempting weddings, religious services, political activity and government meetings.

The order states that certain events like weddings, “which typically happen once in a lifetime, provide benefits to the well-being of the participants such that they can be treated differently from casual social gatherings such as house parties.”

The order also states that catered celebrations have an established list of attendees, facilitating better contact tracing efforts.

Contact Claire Lowe: 609-272-7251

Twitter @clairelowe

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Staff Writer

I began covering South Jersey in 2008 after graduating from Rowan University with a degree in journalism. After seven years at The Current and Gazette newspapers, I joined The Press in 2015. I currently cover education.

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