Editorial: Vaccination rate hangs over Homecoming dance

Posted 10/14/21

Nestled in our story about the rogue high school Halloween dance is a figure deserving of more attention. According to Mt. Hope High School Principal Deborah DiBiase, the school has confirmed …

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Editorial: Vaccination rate hangs over Homecoming dance

Posted

Nestled in our story about the rogue high school Halloween dance is a figure deserving of more attention. According to Mt. Hope High School Principal Deborah DiBiase, the school has confirmed vaccination notices for only 38 percent of its students. So nearly two-thirds of Mt. Hope students are not vaccinated against Covid-19.

Keep in mind, that’s based on what the district officially has on record. Could more than 38 of Mt. Hope students be vaccinated, but their families either forgot or chose not to notify the district? Yes, it’s not only possible, it’s probable.

But that 38 percent figure is the reality. As Mt. Hope administrators make decisions about policies, activities, events and Homecoming dances, they have to rely on what they know. In this case, they “know” that two out of three students are not vaccinated.

Many are using neighbors Barrington and Portsmouth as examples of school districts willing to hold a dance for their students. However, those districts have something else going for them — much higher vaccination rates. According to Rhode Island Department of Health data, Barrington’s vaccination rate for those up to age 24 is more than double the rate in Bristol and 62 percent higher than in Warren. Earlier this year, we did our own analysis of the actual vaccination rate at Barrington High School (extrapolated from health and census data) and estimated that more than 90 percent of Barrington students were vaccinated. Overall, both Barrington and Portsmouth have higher vaccination rates among their total populations than do Bristol and Warren.

This data is not just a curiosity, and neither is it not a call for action. It just is what it is. If families don’t want to vaccinate their children, or don’t want to tell the school district about it, they are free to make that choice. But a Homecoming dance is not such a rite of passage that losing it would cause irreperrable harm. If school leaders don’t feel safe organizing a mass gathering in close quarters, they are well within their rights, based on their 38 percent vaccination rate.

Likewise, parents are within their rights to plan the unsanctioned, off-campus dance near Cove Cabin at Mt. Hope Farm, but it’s reasonable to question the wisdom of the venue and the timing. A few hundred teenagers will be gathering in the dark, in one of the most remote locations imaginable, surrounded woods, fields and trails, overseen by a group of volunteers — on Halloween night. Covid may be the least of the risks that night.

If the Mt. Hope community demands a normal school year, complete with all the events, rites and rituals that have been lost by thousands of students in the past two years, then they should consider their 38 percent vaccination rate. Until things change significantly, either among the population or the pandemic, it will be cited repeatedly as this school year continues.

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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.