Mid-Missouri parents plan prom night despite COVID-19 concerns

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CENTRALIA – Corsages and boutonnieres filled Chance Gardens in Centralia as high school students lined up to take their prom photos with family and friends.

Centralia parents organized an unofficial prom for their high school juniors and seniors on Friday night after Centralia High School announced it would not be hosting its own.

“We haven’t had any cases here, and we’re taking precautions,” Centralia junior Lauren Sanders said.

At least 60 people entered the picturesque Chance Gardens as they prepared for the unofficial prom. No one wore face masks and there was very little social distancing observed.

The mayor of Centralia Chris Cox, however, said he was attending prom pictures and prom night to ensure people stayed a safe distance away from each other.

“First of all, I was very excited. I thought it was a great thing,” he said. “I think we need to try to get back to normal as soon as we can but do it in a way that’s conscientious of good stewardship of health”

Mother Kelly Wheelan said she understood why parents would be concerned, considering the magnitude of the pandemic. She said she believes it is everyone’s right to make their own decision about attending.

“If they don’t think it’s safe, definitely make the choice for your child to not come,” she said.

Wheelan said her daughter, Delaney, went to Paris High School. Her school is not holding a prom.

“[Centralia parents are] providing an opportunity that the school could not provide,” she said.

Wheelan said she wanted to make sure her daughter had closure for the end of her senior year, so she allowed her to go to her boyfriend’s prom in Centralia.

“She’s had some other things in her life that she couldn’t get closure on,” she said. “I felt it was going to hinder her and her future to not have closure.”

While some people have concerns, Cox said the students have more than 3,000 square feet outside. He said he and the city administrator approved the prom because the parents went to “great lengths” to make sure it was safe.

As part of phase one of the state’s reopening plan, Governor Mike Parson tweeted, “There are currently no limitations on social gatherings AS LONG AS precautions are taken and six feet of distance can be maintained.”

“I’ve gone to prom before and this is just something different and unique,” Sanders said.

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