graduation cap and book

Chandler Unified School District is sacrificing proms this school year to keep high school seniors safe and healthy for in-person graduations while Tempe Union plans in-person commencements but is still working out details.

For the second year in a row, the pandemic is thwarting Chandler’s high school students from celebrating the end of their spring semester with any type of school-sponsored dance or prom. 

Superintendent Camille Casteel said she made the decision to eliminate prom with the hope that it would keep the district’s infection rate low enough to allow for in-person graduation ceremonies in May. 

“There are a number of families upset about a lack of a prom,” Casteel said. “When we made the decision, it was in an effort to protect graduation.”  

Chandler Unified’s decision puts it in line with both Higley Unified and Gilbert Public Schools on graduation plans. But the Gilbert districts may also sponsor proms, as Scottsdale Unified already has decided to hold.

CUSD is planning to allow each graduate to invite only two guests to attend their ceremony. Students will be given two wristbands that must be worn by their attendees to gain access to the event.   

All attendees will be expected to wear masks and socially distance from each other. CUSD intends to still broadcast the ceremony online for family members who cannot attend in person.  

Even though CUSD has chosen to prioritize graduation over prom, district leaders say schools are attempting to come up with some additional events.  

“The schools are going to do a lot to celebrate and have fun activities for the seniors,” Casteel said. “We are doing our part to make sure the seniors have a great end of the year.”

Student leaders from the district’s high schools have spent the last few weeks brainstorming new ideas for events that could allow for seniors to safely congregate without the fear of contracting COVID-19 right before graduation. 

Chandler High is considering some sort of parade that will celebrate its graduating class. Casteel High will be hosting a BBQ lunch for its seniors and handing out special “Class of 2021” masks for students to save as a keepsake.  

Brooke Romero, Hamilton High’s student body president, said her school has been trying to find creative ways to engage students digitally by incorporating more technology into school events. 

Since the school has been having to conduct its assemblies virtually, Romero said the student government is trying to use popular applications like TikTok to make the virtual event feel more interactive for seniors.    

Basha High is hoping to host a movie night this month on the school’s football field, where students would be required to wear masks and socially distance. 

Reed Uhlik, Basha’s student body president, said he believes the special event could help students feel a sense of normalcy again after a chaotic year.  

Some CUSD parents have reportedly begun planning their own prom at Mesa’s Superstition Farm property.    

Flyers circulating online indicate that parents are intending to organize a private prom for graduating seniors from Casteel, Basha and Perry high schools. The ticketed events are not affiliated with CUSD and will require guests to show school identification to gain entry, according to the flyers.   

Some CUSD parents have expressed disappointment in seeing other parents organize private proms at such a precarious time and are hoping the dances won’t ruin graduation by spreading the virus around the district’s student body.   

“I sincerely hope these proms don’t mess up graduation,” said parent Linda Fenner, “especially for the kids that have been cautious with this virus and respectful of their peers.”