‘It was really heartbreaking’: Madison West students respond to email canceling dance with petition

MMSD: Email sent ‘prematurely,’ district ‘not recommending cancellation’

MADISON, Wis. – As Madison high schoolers worry they’ll miss out on another major event during the pandemic, the Madison Metropolitan School District said schools are refining their plans for homecoming activities next week.

“It’s already different enough,” said Dani DeAngeles, a senior at Madison West High School. “We’ve already missed a year of some of the best years of our lives.”

After so long with school life turned upside down, DeAngeles and her classmates were looking forward to getting back on their feet for this year’s homecoming dance – the first in two years.

“Everyone was really looking forward to a sense of normalcy, which the dance was going to bring to us,” DeAngeles said. “A lot of people already made dinner plans, got their outfits.”

On Monday, Madison West sent an email to families about the return of homecoming week, noting at the end that the dance would not be taking place.

“Seeing that email, it was really heartbreaking,” said Olga Gatesi, a senior and vice president for the school’s Black Student Union. “I was like, that’s the whole point of homecoming.”

“Following the science should mean that we could have an outdoor, safe, masked homecoming,” DeAngeles said.

She started a petition asking for that, signed on by more than 2,500 people as of Wednesday night including students and parents.

“Although there are bigger problems than a homecoming dance, it’s been a tough year and a half. It would be exciting for kids to experience that and get the high school experience they’ve missed out on a bit,” said Katie Myers, who has two daughters who attend Madison West. “I do not envy anyone who has to make any of the decisions or who have had to make them over the past year and a half, but it doesn’t seem to fall in line with any of the other regulations or mandates they’re following.”

“All the people who asked me whether it was happening seemed really eager to go to the dance,” Student Council president Simon Yang said. “I was disappointed for myself and for them.”

On Wednesday, Tim LeMonds, director of communications for MMSD, said in an email that the school had sent that information out prematurely and “therefore turned out to be inaccurate.” He wasn’t able to say whether any of the four high schools would hold a dance, but added that the district sent out guidance Wednesday for schools on planning homecoming activities and that the district is not recommending cancelation.

In a Facebook Live event Wednesday night, MMSD Superintendent Dr. Carlton Jenkins said more guidance would be going out soon, but he was proud of how students have used their voice in the matter.

“We have put forth a very safe way to have homecoming dances and I’m very proud to say the communication is going out, has gone out right now to everyone,” Jenkins said. “But also, we lifted students’ voices in this process. I have to give really the high school principals along with their students and their staff a lot of credit for pushing to see how could we remain safe and have a homecoming dance.”

Schools including West and James Madison Memorial High School sent out emails to families writing that leadership is working with their teams and student groups to refine plans and “communicate these plans to students and families as early as possible, knowing that Homecoming is approaching quickly.”

“In the coming days, your school will be reaching out to let you know which Homecoming activities they will be offering and the detailed strategies which will be used to keep students safe,” the email said.

The emails included the district’s guidance on planning activities, which includes recommendations for mask-wearing indoors, maintaining three feet of physical distance and holding large events outdoors.

“With a demonstrated commitment to layered mitigation, MMSD high schools can continue to host many of the traditional Homecoming activities,” the guidance says.

With the latest developments, students at West are hopeful they’ll be able to experience a Homecoming dance this year after all.

“Happy’s an underrated word,” Gatesi said. “I would be super happy.”

“I would be really happy and I think it would be awesome for the students,” DeAngeles said.