After setting up a photo backdrop Saturday, Jennifer Tyler, far left, snaps test shots of Jessie Geyer, center, framed by her sons Riley Geyer, right, and Jaden Geyer at Augusta Elks Lodge. Some Cony High School parents are coordinating Saturday’s western-themed prom alternative after the school called off the traditional prom due to coronavirus. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

AUGUSTA — The Elks Lodge in Augusta has been decorated in a “Western Theme” with hay bales and cornhole, ready for Cony High School juniors and seniors to show up in cowboy boots and hats.

Cony parents have taken on the task of creating a dance for the seniors as the closest thing the students will get to a traditional prom — because the coronavirus pandemic has canceled the school-sponsored event for the year.

“This is it for the seniors, they have been robbed and have little to no control over it,” Augusta parent Julie Franchetti Stolt said. “Everyone is passionate about making sure they have good memories.”

Stolt is part of Cony’s Project Graduation, along with several other parents, who have chosen to take on the dance as another event to plan for the students. Stolt said not all of the Project Graduation parents are choosing to help with the dance, but at least 10 are part of the plan.

The seniors, and some juniors, will have a “prom” at the Elks Lounge on Saturday night.

According to Center for Disease Control guidelines, students will still have to wear their masks indoors and only those who are vaccinated have gotten the go-ahead to wear no mask outside.

Stolt said around 150 students are expected to attend the event and have purchased tickets for $10 to do so. Parents will chaperone to make sure students are staying 6 feet from each other at all times and food will be served in individual packaging.

“Everything is COVID compliant, there’s the mask mandate inside, hand sanitizer, we won’t be doing slow dancing,” Stolt said. “We are doing our very best.”

Cony Principal Kim Silsby did not have a statement to make about the parent-led prom.

Volunteers work around where there will later be a fire pit set up Saturday at Augusta Elks Lodge. Some Cony High School parents are coordinating Saturday’s western-themed prom alternative after the school called off the traditional prom due to coronavirus. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

Winthrop also is having a parent-led dance, but details were not available. While Winthrop Principal Mark Campbell did not respond to the Kennebec Journal’s request for comment about the non-school-sponsored event, he did speak out strongly about it on the Winthrop High School website.

“I am aware that parents may be trying to organize an event on their own and are assuming all liabilities including those associated with a mass outbreak of COVID,” he wrote. “Employees of Winthrop Public Schools who go to this private function will be doing so as private citizens and will be liable as private citizens.”

Stolt said not every Cony parent is on the same page, either, but said it’s “OK and not a mandatory option.”

“We wanted to offer it for the kids,” she said. “One last dance, one night of fun. Safe and controlled environment where parents are chaperoning, that’s how it came up. We have been a determined group.”

Skowhegan and Carrabec high schools have opted for a prom, though it looks much different this year.

While some schools have opted for a prom, others became more creative. At Madison Area Memorial High School, organizers are planning for an end-of-year celebration on June 10, which will function much like a carnival, according to Principal Christopher LeBlanc.

“We will be following all COVID-19 protocols and we’re basically going to have a beach day without a beach,” LeBlanc said.

This event will include outdoor games, a barbecue and music, he said. Some class night activities may also take place during this event, he said, to shorten the length of the graduation ceremony scheduled for June 11.

Julie Stolt hands a string of light to another volunteer Saturday as they set up a photo backdrop at Augusta Elks Lodge. Some Cony High School parents are coordinating Saturday’s western-themed prom alternative after the school called off the traditional prom due to coronavirus. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

“The senior celebration is going to encompass the prom as well,” LeBlanc said. “We chose not to do a prom and based on the students’ feelings around it, they felt that if we did something like we are planning, it would be a good compromise.”

On Thursday, the Mills administration announced plans to remove most COVID-19 restrictions, which include capacity limits, physical distancing requirements in outdoor settings and most indoor venues, to begin May 24. While masks will no longer be mandated to be worn outside, the mandate remains in place for public indoor spaces.

During this update on Thursday, Mills also said that the state would soon update distancing rules for Maine schools.

As it stands currently, the capacity for indoor gathering is 50% and 75% for outdoor gatherings.

At Skowhegan Area High School, Principal Bruce Mochamer said that prom is scheduled for May 22 and will be split into two sessions; the first, a casual/semi-formal event, beginning at 7 p.m., with a more formal event at 9 p.m. that will take place at the school.

“It’s not going to be the classic prom, but we’ll be following COVID-19 protocols,” Mochamer said. “We want the kids to come to school, not focused on dresses or a tuxedo, we just want them focused on coming to school and having a good time.”

Like other schools, slow dancing will be prohibited; Skowhegan’s prom will only include students as outside guests will not be allowed in the building, Mochamer said.

At Carrabec High School in North Anson, Principal Timothy Richards said earlier this week that the school’s prom was held over the previous weekend at T&B’s Celebration Center in Skowhegan; 74 students attended the prom, masks were worn during the entire event and temperatures were checked at the door.

“There was no slow-dancing and people were sad about it, but the kids seemed to have a good time,” Richards said.

At Maine Arts Academy in Sidney, Head of School Heather King said that while there is no prom scheduled, a senior day trip to an amusement park is being scheduled as school officials believe that this is a safer way to celebrate.

Winslow High School Principal Chad Bell discussed the school’s graduation celebration, which will kick off on June 6 with a car parade, led by local police and fire trucks throughout town, sparking a new tradition. Class night will be held on June 7.

Class night in Winslow will be held in the gymnasium with students socially distanced on the floor; family pods will be socially distanced throughout the room and each student is allowed up to four guests.

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