WOHS Cheer Team Faces Possible Legal Action After Disregarding Proper COVID-19 Precautions

On March 7th, 2021, a formal banquet was held for the West Orange High School cheerleaders to celebrate their accomplishments and the seniors on the team, which reportedly resulted in two positive COVID cases. After this year’s indoor and outdoor seasons, the Cheerleading Booster Club, a group of parents that help support the efforts of the school team, hosted a large indoor event to celebrate the cheerleaders that was attended by the cheer team, their families, and various coaches throughout the years. According to a source associated with the Cheer Boosters, the banquet was held at The Hanover Manor, located in East Hanover, New Jersey, and 89 people were in attendance. It was an event for the cheerleaders and their families, after which several attendees took to social media to share their best photos. In the photos shared on social media, the cheerleaders and their coach posed together in a large group and were unmasked. It is alleged that the WOHS Cheer Team violated various CDC guidelines, as well as WO COVID guidelines stipulated prior to RSVPing, as evidenced by the photos posted on social media.

Group photo of the WOHS Cheer Team at the banquet. (Shared anonymously with The Pioneer)

After the banquet, some cheerleaders attended in-person school, as a part of the WOHS hybrid schedule. In an email from the WOHS head cheerleading coach, Taylor Calixto, to the Cheer Team parents, shared anonymously with The Pioneer, it was pointed out that students were asked to abide by the “request that all banquet attendees should NOT return to school until March 22nd.” With the information that a cheerleader, or cheerleaders, entered WOHS for hybrid instruction, Calixto reiterated in her email that the expectation to follow the noted recommendations were clearly stated on the invitation, as well as being mentioned in their Google Classroom prior to the actual event. 

It was initially assumed by many that the Cheer banquet directly caused the closure of WOHS for two weeks. On Monday, March 15th, the district announced that hybrid learning  at WOHS had been canceled until April 19th, 2021.To clarify, WOHS was closed for 2 weeks based on CDC guidelines. Spring break is March 29th-April 2nd, followed by 2 weeks of pre-planned, all-virtual schooling. Therefore, students will not return to the hybrid learning model until April 19th. 

“PLEASE READ COVID GUIDELINES BELOW PRIOR TO RSVPing” ( “Melinda Lee” (Melinda Huerta), WOBOE member, via Facebook)

As a result of this situation, the cheerleaders have argued that the public does not know the full story, as many have drawn conclusions and made assumptions based on the pictures posted on social media. The Cheer team has apparently deleted all photos from the event from their social media accounts. There were many hateful and otherwise negative comments directed at the Cheer team and individual Cheerleaders by peers and those within the community, such as body shaming, sexualization of the young women, and derogatory remarks about intelligence and decision-making, among other topics. 

 As a response to the frustration felt by the non-cheerleading community, a WO community member anonymously created a petition addressed to the West Orange Board of Education and West Orange High School, requesting that cheerleaders, their parents, and specific staff members be held accountable. The petition proposed the following consequences be put in effect:

  1. The cheerleaders are not allowed to attend the 2021 graduation ceremony and outdoor prom
  2. The cheer team will be disbanded indefinitely
  3. The cheerleaders, family members, and coaches involved each be fined $1,000 for threatening the lives of the West Orange community. 

“If action is not taken by the West Orange Board of Education or West Orange High School, the West Orange community will be taking legal action for threatening the lives of WOHS members and harming the education of WOHS students,” the petition stated. As of Wednesday, March 17th, the petition had been removed. It is unclear how many signatures the petition received before being taken down. 

In a recent Patch article and in a statement to the WOHS community, superintendent Dr. Scott Cascone wrote that “two [cases] caused the high school closure.” On Tuesday, March 16th, Cascone told Patch that the first case the week prior, dealing with someone who had just been on campus, and the second case was reported Monday the 15th, involving a person who had actually been inside the building. There is no connection between the case(s) resulting from the cheer banquet and the case(s) that led to the school’s closure. 

According to page 18 of the Department of Health guidelines,  had the cases been connected, it would not have been necessary for the school to close. If “2 or more cases within 14 days [are] linked to an exposure outside the school setting,” the DOH states that school remains open. In this scenario, students and staff in close contact with positive cases are excluded from school for “10 days in absence of testing” or “14 days when Regional Risk Level is orange.” However, if the situation is “2 or more cases are identified within 14 days, linked together by some activity in school, but who are in different classrooms (outbreak involving multiple cohorts),” the DOH says “recommendations for whether school closure is indicated will be based on investigation by the local health department.”

In his communication to the community, Dr. Cascone responded to the public’s uproar and subsequent blame on the cheerleaders and their banquet for directly closing WOHS for 2 weeks, “People jump to the conclusion that it had something to do with the banquet… it didn’t,” Cascone wrote. “When you have booster club events, there’s obviously a nexus between that and the school district. But the danger, if you will, for lack of a better word, is that the district sort of owns the event from a public relations standpoint, but doesn’t necessarily own it operationally.” He further explained, “If we’re going to support any kind of banquet or end-of-season celebration, we need to put our arms around it and manage it. I don’t need to articulate to them that this has become a situation that needs to be managed.”