Student Council considers safe events amid COVID-19 surge, Winter Ball cancellation


Courtesy of 2020 Yearbook

ARHS students from the 2019-2020 school year dance at the Winter Ball on Dec. 20, 2019.

Claire Devlin and Hannah O’Grady

The Winter Ball was cancelled on Jan. 5 due to the recent uptick in COVID-19 cases and the highly contagious nature of the new Omicron variant, a decision the Student Council fully supports, despite how much they and the student body were looking forward to the event.

After 151 positive COVID-19 cases were reported over winter break, the Medical Advisory Team (MAT) decided that the dance, which was planned for Feb. 11, would not be safe to hold. Student Council President junior Ben Schanzer confirmed the cancellation in a Canvas announcement published to the ARHS Student Body page.

The Student Council planned the event with COVID-19 safety precautions in mind, but they supported the MAT’s decision regardless. According to Schanzer, if COVID-19 cases had remained stable, attendees would have been required to complete a rapid test on the day of the event.

“By getting access to the rapid tests, we were confident in our ability to do it safely,” Schanzer said. “Unfortunately, we had that huge uptake in cases the week before break.”

Abbott Laboratories, a company that produces COVID-19 antigen tests, donated 800 test kits towards the event for no cost, which Schanzer expressed his appreciation for. Without the tests, he said, it would have been difficult to hold the event safely even before the recent COVID-19 surge. Another complication to the event was the delayed start of planning that resulted from previous COVID-19 uncertainties. 

One of the greatest challenges was finding a venue that would accommodate the Winter Ball’s projected number of attendees. In order to ensure the safety of attendees, most local venues had capacity limits far lower than the Ball’s expected turnout, which has exceeded 750 students in past years, according to Student Council member and event committee chairperson senior Ava Ellsworth.

Ellsworth said the Student Council also considered holding two separate events, one for underclassmen and one for upperclassmen, in order to ensure that all students who wanted to attend the dance could do so safely.

“Our biggest problem was deciding how to allocate tickets to students,” Ellsworth said. “There was a lot of debate on how we were going to safely handle that issue.”

The Student Council had been communicating with the MAT to confirm that the decisions they were making promoted student safety. 

Hopefully by early spring, this will all be behind us and something can be planned that can be outdoors,” District Wellness Coordinator and MAT member Mary Ellen Duggan said in an interview via email.

Schanzer expressed gratitude to MAT for their guidance and willingness to collaborate.

“It would have been so easy for [the MAT], when I first reached out to them in October and said, ‘Hey, is this something we can think about?’ for them to have just said, ‘Sorry, there’s no way to do it,’” Schanzer said.

That sentiment is shared by Principal Sean Bevan, who credited Schanzer’s leadership and the MAT’s responsiveness as the reason that the event was even considered. 

“Ben as a leader and his team have done a good job of thinking through how to run this event in a safe way, and the MAT, to their great credit, have been open to hearing those responses,” Bevan said. “There has been an open line of communication, which has been great.”

The Winter Ball was the first large-scale event the Student Council has attempted to hold since the pandemic began, according to Student Council adviser John Barry. He noted that the planning of any similar events had been dormant since 2020, and that without the student council’s initiative in seeking out tests and chaperones, it would never have been considered.

In order for us to best do our jobs, I need to hear from students, and I really want everyone to feel like they can reach out to myself or to the other class representatives or presidents.

— Ben Schanzer

“They really wanted to deliver a safe Winter Ball,” Barry said. “They didn’t give up. They asked great questions. They stood for something.”

Barry admires the Student Council members for their prioritization of safety and their complete understanding of the need for cancellation.

“They never allowed themselves to forget tracking the science, and they stayed in conjunction with the Medical Advisory Team,” Barry said.

Despite this setback, the Student Council is confident that events will be held later this year. The ability to hold events outdoors will allow for students to gather in a safer manner. Ellsworth hopes these events will inspire a sense of community similar to what the Winter Ball would have created.

“[Outdoor events] would hopefully allow us to incorporate all grades while not presenting a safety issue with crowding,” Ellsworth said.

Moving forward, Student Council members believe that student input is critical to the success of future events and policies.

“In order for us to best do our jobs, I need to hear from students, and I really want everyone to feel like they can reach out to myself or to the other class representatives or presidents,” Schanzer said. “Let us know if you have any concerns or ideas, especially now as we are trying to plan another whole school event.”

Schanzer encourages the student body to utilize the Google Form located on the ARHS Student Body Canvas page to share their opinions with the Student Council.

Editor’s Note: This article contains sources who are members of The Harbinger’s Editorial Board. Such members have been removed from the editorial process of this article in order to maintain fair and bias-free reporting.