Quebec gives green light to high school proms

Quebec high school students will be allowed to celebrate graduation with a prom after all, according to the premier.

At the Tuesday afternoon COVID-19 update, Premier François Legault said as of July 8, once most teenagers in the province will have had a first dose of the vaccine for at least two weeks, proms will be allowed outdoors and with tents.

It’s a special exception to the current rules for gatherings. A maximum of 250 people will be allowed at any given prom and students will not need to wear masks or distance, so dancing will be possible.

“I remember of my own prom at the end of high school at the Vaudreuil Inn, which unfortunately no longer exists today,” said Legault. “ It ended in the wee hours of the morning and it was memorable. So, I would like for young people to have that also as a memory.”

The Legault government initially said proms were out of the question, but faced growing pressure to change that decision, with some students protesting outside the National Assembly on Monday afternoon.

For Evan Lew, a student at Lindsay Place High School in Pointe-Claire, the news came as a shock, but in a good way, and he said it will especially help with students' mental health. 

"Prom is something that everyone anticipates," the 17-year-old told CTV News. 

"This kind of shows the light at the end of the tunnel. It shows that we followed all of the restrictions, we followed all of the guidelines, we wore our masks, we socially distanced, we didn’t see our friends for these types of outcomes, so I’m glad we’re finally seeing what we worked so hard for to come true."

The provincial government expects that most 12 to 17-year-olds will have at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine by June 24, and so it settled on July 8 for proms, to allow two weeks for the vaccine to take effect.

“First of all, it's important to understand that youth have a better response and immunology than older people, so probably after a first dose if they wait 14 days or three weeks they're going to be more fully protected, probably over 90 per cent,” said Dr. Horacio Arruda, the province’s director of public health.

“It's an outdoor type of event so I think the risks are well balanced with, I would say, the pleasure it will give, and the memories for those kids,” he added.

When asked why the rules could be different for proms than for weddings, Dr. Arruda said there were many differences, including a wider age range among guests at weddings.

“[There are] older groups, not only youth that are there, there is grandma or grandpa, aunt and uncle,” he said.

However, those with the Association montréalaise des directions d'établissements scolaires (AMDES) state school administrations were never consulted about the change in plans.

"We learned with amazement and disbelief...that graduation balls will be possible without constraint in one month," said AMDES President Kathleen Legault. "This announcement by the government poses many practical problems and worries us greatly for the safety of students."

She insists proms take months of planning, and nothing has been done to start the process because the government had stated they would not be happening.

"By announcing that it is possible to hold a prom without constraint, the premier has just put enormous pressure back on schools and managements," she stated, adding most staff members will already be on vacation by July 8. "Who will be able to guarantee the safety of the students and supervise this sometimes overly festive activity?"

In addition to proms, graduation ceremonies with parents in attendance will also be allowed, with distancing guidelines in place.

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