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Coeur d'Alene prom canceled amid community coronavirus concerns

On Monday evening, KREM reported on a prom for Washington seniors planned in Idaho. By Wednesday, it was canceled amid coronavirus fears.

SPOKANE, Wash. — Prom is one of the many highlights Washington state high-school seniors missed out on this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

On Monday, July 20, KREM reported that one local group was taking its event across the border to Idaho instead of canceling the landmark event for teenagers. By Wednesday, July 22 organizers sent an email announcing the cancellation of the event.

Gonzaga Prep Young Life leader Stewart Sonneland sent the following email to make the announcement.

"After careful consideration, the Coeur d’Alene Formal has been canceled. Given the level of concern within our community over rising COVID cases in the Inland Empire, we think it best to make this difficult decision at this time.

From the outset, the intent was to organize an event for students — all of you had missed out on so much this spring — that would be safe, fun and within both local laws and COVID regulations. In addition, as happened in June when the Formal was postponed, the intent was to hold the Formal only if those elements could be met. But as we have no desire to politicize the event or create undue distress for students or parents we believe this course of action is best. We understand this is disappointing news and know that we feel that with you.

Further, it should be stressed that this event has always been privately sponsored and organized. There has never been any formal affiliation with any school or organization and we regret any challenges this has presented to institutions that we care very deeply about. 

Know that if you have already paid for Formal tickets, you will receive a refund soon (less a small fee the payment portal charges). 

That said, we want to wish you and your families all the best and many blessings in the weeks and months ahead!"

Earlier in the week, a parent shared an email with KREM about the prom that was planned for July 27 in Idaho that was expected to host 150 people. 

The Gonzaga Prep Young Life Instagram account also shared the event, described as a formal at the Coeur d’Alene Resort. A spokesperson for the resort said on Tuesday that she is unable to share information about guests. 

As of Tuesday morning, that post was removed. The event page was also deleted.

A local parent previously shared an email with KREM describing how the event is expected to host 150 people if Idaho remains in Stage 4 of reopening.

Sonneland sent the email and is listed as the event contact. He told KREM in a phone interview that the formal is not hosted by Young Life, but a private event put on by Spokane families. The event website said the same.

The event was expected to host about 150 people at the Hagadone Event Center. According to the event email, organizers are hopeful Idaho remains in Stage 4 of reopening, where groups of over 50 people can gather.

Since the space has a capacity of 500 people and its floor-to-ceiling windows will be open, Sonneland said in the email the formal can be held with "relatively low risk of COVID infection."

“We're always at risk even if we get into our car,” Sonneland told KREM.

KREM spoke with Area Director of Spokane Young Life Hans Liezen, who said the formal is not an event sanctioned by the organization. 

Gonzaga Prep also denied any involvement in the formal. The school's president, Michael Dougherty, provided the following statement.  

"Gonzaga Prep is not affiliated in any way with “Prep Young Life” and we have previously asked Young Life to not use the Gonzaga Prep name in order to distinguish our organizations." 

"Our priority is preparing for the upcoming school year, and welcoming students back to a safe environment and a robust educational program. We adhere strictly to state and county Department of Health guidelines, and ask our students and families to do the same, so that we have the very best opportunity to return to school this fall, while promoting the health and safety of the Spokane community."

The Spokane County Regional Health District provided the following statement, saying events like the Coeur d'Alene Formal are "disappointing and not recommended."

“Events such as Coeur d’Alene Formal are disappointing and not recommended. It is disheartening to hear of large gatherings being organized to get around Washington’s Safe Start measures, which are put in place to protect the health and well-being of our community.

In addition to risking the health of our youth and their families, it is putting the health of our Idaho neighbors at risk. In order for our community to move forward and for businesses to remain open, we must refrain from gathering in large groups, wear masks when we’re unable to physically distance, and wash our hands regularly.

These are the methods we have to slow the spread of COVID-19, and we all have to participate together in order for them to work.”

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