School officials are defending the way Exeter High School handled contact tracing for last week’s senior prom after facing criticism for requiring that numbers be written in marker on the hands of students not vaccinated for COVID-19.

In a post on Facebook, Brentwood School Board Chairman Melissa Litchfield, who is also a Republican state representative, raised concerns about how things were handled at the outdoor prom on June 4.

“I have had some constituents write to me angry about some things that went on at the event on Saturday evening. These complaints revolved around (confidentiality) surrounding those who did and did not receive the COVID-19 vaccine, and the labeling that came along with that,” she wrote.

Litchfield included some quotes from unnamed individuals who were critical of the contact tracing rules, including one who claimed that the students were treated like “prisoners in Nazi Germany.”

Litchfield could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday.

In a statement, Exeter High School Principal Mike Monahan said feedback from students and parents has been “extremely positive regarding the prom experience.”

“We are aware that some concerns have been expressed that students were singled out or had their privacy violated. We made every effort possible – while adhering to contact tracing guidelines – to ensure that this did not happen. We hope the community will understand that while no model is perfect, this model let the students enjoy a close to normal and highly desired experience to cap off their senior year. That’s the memory we want to leave them with,” he said.

According to a separate statement from School Administrative Unit 16, students who were unable to provide a vaccination card because they didn’t have one, didn’t show a card, or were not fully vaccinated had a number written on their hand.

“Dancing was divided among three dance floors. During the dancing, after every few songs they were asked to raise their hands to determine who they were around,” the SAU said.

The decision was made to hold the prom outside under a tent because, the SAU said, it didn’t seem “feasible” to hold it indoors.

The SAU said that “based on the significant drop in COVID cases, the broad availability of vaccines in the state for 17- and 18-year-olds and their vaccine rates, we were so pleased to hold an in-person prom that students really wanted and thoroughly enjoyed. Our goal was to let them dance, while taking appropriate safety precautions for the more than 300 attendees.”

After acknowledging that it wouldn’t be possible to have all students vaccinated, school officials decided that in order to be inclusive and allow all seniors to attend without masks, a contact-tracing system would need to be in place.

The SAU said students were notified about the contact tracing and asked for vaccination information as they registered.

“No contract tracing system is perfect for crowds this large and not all students could be traced in a prom environment. However, without a contact tracing system, all attendees would have had to be quarantined if there was a positive case tied back to the event,” the SAU said.

As of Thursday, no COVID-19 cases associated with the prom had been reported, the SAU said.

The SAU said the list of prom attendees didn’t have any personally identifiable information on it regarding student vaccinations and did not list the numbers assigned to students.

“Only a single set of cards with this information exists for tracking purposes and the class advisor was the only individual that possessed them. Those cards will be destroyed in the next few days. As a result, there will be no unique identifiers that can be tied back to students who were unable to show proof of vaccination,” the SAU said.

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