Students Challenge Safety Guidelines at Homecoming Dance

Students entering the football field during a fire drill on September 16, 2021 (Andrew Acevedo)

As homecoming comes to an end, this year’s dance attendees challenged the effectiveness of safety guidelines. 

If we take a look at the second week of school, Mountainside had its first fire drill on September 16th, 2021. During the drill, all students and staff were dismissed to line up in the football field during sixth-period classes. In this event, there was no explicit system enforcing social distancing or mask-wearing. 

By consequence, releasing everyone at the same time made it so that all students were exposed to one another regardless of the class they were dismissed from. Hence, the lack of contact tracing. The following day, Mountainside reported its second Covid outbreak. 

That’s not to say the Covid case was caused by the fire drill but had that person been present during the drill, who can say how many other people were exposed.

This reveals how interconnected the student body is. We see in this situation, how difficult it is to socially distance since there are so many of us gathered in one place.

Homecoming concerns brought up by students and parents often pertained to this issue. In just the first week of ticket sales, a total of 671 students were expected to attend. The fire drill just like other drills is an emergency practice required by the district. On the flipside, school dances are laid-back recreational events. By the end of the second week of ticket sales, the expected attendees nearly doubled to 1,078. By having this many people attending already, people grew more concerned about Covid outbreaks. 

Yasmeen Al Huneidi, the head of the dance committee, addressed the safety guidelines set for the dance. Huneidi identified that masks were to be worn at all times, attendees should maintain a social distance of three feet (to the extent possible), and that the dance would be held in the courtyard. In previous years, water had been offered at the dance, but in order to maintain mask-wearing, that option was eliminated. Huneidi also explained how breathalyzers would be cleaned and/or swapped between tests. As far as BSD safety guidelines went, the precautions set for the dance checked all the boxes. 

This information was shared with students in school announcements, student-signed ‘Dance Policy’ forms, and was even printed on the back of the tickets. It can be said with high confidence that all 1078 students who attended were not oblivious to their expectations at the dance. 

When it came to the night of the event, however- attendees violated all of the following guidelines.

Students line up at the homecoming dance. (Andrew Acevedo)

When entering the dance students were lined up around the building to enter the courtyard. In this lineup, the majority of students weren’t socially distanced, and some pulled their masks down or removed them completely.

Once they entered, attendees drew a playing card to see if they would get breathalyzed. In the case that a student drew a certain card, they were pulled to the side of a small room with an officer. As far as we could tell, there was only one breathalyzer used, that was disinfected between tests. 

Immediately after entering the courtyard, you could see a concentrated area of students near the DJ. Despite distancing guidelines, students had created a mosh pit. People were dancing so close that they started shoving each other. The DJ had stopped the music on various occasions saying, “Back up… stop pushing each other.”      

In addition, some students were given cups by chaperones and instructed to drink the water from the bathrooms if they were thirsty. This was not only problematic as it was a violation of the safety precautions previously set but there were also “Do Not Drink” signs posted next to the sinks. 

All things considered, students expressed having an overall good time at this year’s “Homecoming in Hollywood” dance.

Students dancing in the mosh pit at the homecoming dance (Watsyn Tibbetts)

Returning to school on Monday, October 18th however, many students were absent. Several of them were unvaccinated dance attendees in quarantine. In addition, it was announced on Wednesday, October 20th that there was a Covid outbreak among the football players. Some of which tested positive, and others remain in quarantine. Due to this circumstance, the final home football game of the regular season, against Jesuit, was canceled. 

We can agree as a community that returning to a sense of normalcy- especially after a year in CDL is a positive change. It’s exciting to attend and support one another in school events like sports, clubs, and dances. But as we can prominently see after this event, we must do our part to follow guidelines in order to keep ourselves and others safe. This year’s dance hosts did their best to work with the district in order to implement safety guidelines. And while they could’ve enforced these expectations more on the night of the dance, it really came down to the individual student to follow the rules. 

Part of the Mountainside mission statement states, “We are committed to creating opportunities that allow us to take risks, allowing us to reflect, grow and persevere.” As a community, we must grow from this experience and do better to keep our community safer.