An audit by officials at the Exeter School District of the contact tracing process for the high school prom concluded that "a lack of proper planning, inadequate communication, poor execution and insufficient oversight" led to unvaccinated students being marked with a Sharpie pen.

Planning for the prom in the parking lot of Exeter High School on June 4 happened very quickly after COVID-19 vaccines were approved for use by teens and a significant drop in cases, according to a summary of the audit provided to Seacoast Current.

District officials said they knew not all students would be fully vaccinated, so a contact tracing system was put into place.

Students were told on the prom website that a contact tracing system would be in place and were asked for vaccination information. Specifics of that plan were not spelled out on the website.

Students who could not provide proof of a COVID-19 vaccination ahead of time or at the prom were identified with a black mark on their hand.

Dancing was divided among three dance floors. After every few songs, the students were asked to raise their hands to determine who they were around.

The plan went against instructions from Superintendent David Ryan issued on May 19, which prohibited staff from asking students about their vaccination status, according to the audit.

The audit also said that once that information was collected "appropriate care was not exercised to ensure the confidentiality of this information once it was collected."

The audit also concluded:

  • The class advisor, while appropriately taking a lead role in planning the prom, should have involved high school administration in the planning and decision making given the complexities of planning a large-scale event during a pandemic especially with regards to contact tracing.
  • High school health staff and state and federal experts should have been consulted for advice regarding contact tracing.
  • Additional training should have been provided to prom volunteers
  • Allowing access to student vaccination information by individuals and/or volunteers who may not have had an official school purpose may have constituted a violation of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy (FERPA)

"While there is no question that the intent of those involved in the planning was to provide a safe event for students, the procedures were flawed and poorly executed," the audit concluded.

The audit did not offer an apology nor spell out any disciplinary action against anyone involved in the planning of the prom. It will result in the redesign of the process and guidelines for the planning and execution of events in the SAU "to ensure appropriate oversight, communication, coordination, and execution."

Rep. Melissa Litchfield, R-11th District and a member of the Exeter Region Coop School Board, first brought attention to the issue with what she called a "fact-finding mission" on her Facebook page after hearing from parents upset about what had happened at the prom.

Litchfield has not yet responded to Seacoast Current's request for comment about the audit.

What are your thoughts about the district's audit? Contact reporter Dan Alexander at Dan.Alexander@townsquaremedia.com or via Twitter @DanAlexanderNH

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