Save the date in Tomah: High school prom is on — and classes back to in-person, too

School board approves superintendent's plan for four days in person, one virtual for middle and high school
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Lori Singer and Kevin Bacon get ready to dance in 1984 movie, "Footloose." Paramount Pictures Photo)

TOMAH, Wis. (WKBT) — In addition to resuming in-person classes soon, Tomah High School juniors and seniors will be able to go to prom, divided into 12-person pods at the Monroe County Fairgrounds.
“It won’t be a dancing mosh pit,” high school Principal Robert Joyce said as he explained the plan to the school board during an in-person, physically distanced meeting Monday evening.
The pods are intended to mitigate any possible spread of the virus and provide easy contact tracing if anyone subsequently tests positive, Joyce said.
The physical distancing, which Joyce likened to the adaptation to COVID-19 at sporting events, would allow an expected 300 juniors and seniors some sort of a return to normalcy to cap their year.
Planners of the May 15 prom also are considering prepackaged snacks and other safety measures, he said.
The prom plan passed unanimously, while Superintendent Charles Hanson’s proposal to resume four days of in-person instruction for middle and high schools beginning March 29, with Fridays continuing to be virtual, passed 6-1.
The board approved the in-person school plan, which maintains the status quo for hybrid elementary classes, after discussing issues such as whether it might be too disruptive for some students, how lunches will be handled and other concerns such as busing protocols.
At the beginning of the meeting, parent Zack Hibma appealed to the board to approve the superintendent’s four-day in-person plan.
Children have suffered mentally and physically because of the isolation of virtual learning, Hibma said.
“Even two months will add so much,” he said, adding, “children are not spreading this disease.”
Hanson said he was basing the administration’s recommendation for in-person teaching on the facts that COVID cases in Monroe County are trending in the single digits and positive cases are declining.
Board member Brian Hennessey wondered whether starting in-person classes so late in the year might be too disruptive to students already suffering from so many changes during the past year.
He noted that the interruption of spring break and the normal distractions at the end of any school year with tests and other activities decrease learning during even normal circumstances.
“The last three to four weeks, there’s not a lot of learning,” Hennessey said, adding that he would be less concerned if it were at the semester.
Hanson said he couldn’t guarantee that there wouldn’t be any disruptions but promised that plans are in place to mitigate them.
“This is an opportunity to engage students academically, socially, emotionally,” the superintendent said.
Board member Gary Grovesteen expressed confidence that the administration and staff can pull off the plan.
“Look at what’s going around the country,” Grovesteen said. “Tomah stands tall … thanks to the leadership we have, and the teaching staff.”