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A N.H. high school marked the back of unvaccinated students’ hands at prom, prompting criticism

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A New Hampshire high school that marked the hands of students who were not vaccinated for COVID-19 in an effort to establish a contact tracing system at its prom last week is defending its handling of the event.

Students who attended Exeter High School’s June 4 prom who “were unable to provide a vaccination card because they did not have or share a card or had not completed the full vaccination process had a number written on their hand,” the school said in a statement posted to its website on Thursday.

As students danced, they were asked to raise their hands every few songs so organizers could “determine who they were around,” the statement said.

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More than 300 students attended the event, which was held outdoors and under a tent, the statement said. Masks were not required, except when students were under the tent. Students were “strongly encouraged” to share their vaccination status with the school before the event to “help with any contact tracing,” according to a website established by the school to share information about the prom.

“To make it possible to be inclusive and have all seniors participate without requiring masks - knowing it was not possible to have a 100% vaccine rate - we needed to have a contact tracing system in place,” the statement said. “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.”

There have not been any COVID-19 cases associated with the event so far, according to the school.

Melissa Litchfield, chair of the school board and a state representative, said in a Facebook post this week that some of her constituents wrote to her about the prom and were “angry about some things that went on at the event on Saturday evening.”

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“These complaints revolved around confidentially surrounding those who did and did not receive the COVID 19 vaccine, and the labeling that came along with that,” Litchfield wrote.

The principal of Exeter High, Mike Monahan, said in the statement that the feedback from students and parents about the prom has been “extremely positive.”

“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.”

The issue of requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination in order to participate in events or patronize businesses has become a cultural flashpoint with conservatives , though vaccination requirements in general are not new. Tensions over the issue have been running high, especially after Georgia Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, who has been stripped of her committee assignments for making violent comments and has previously pushed antisemitic conspiracy theories, went so far as to compare vaccination requirements to Nazi Germany, prompting bipartisan rebuke.


Amanda Kaufman can be reached at amanda.kaufman@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @amandakauf1.