Marion County bans students from marching in parades

Members of the Marion County School Board voted with heavy hearts on Tuesday for keeping students from marching in parades, citing concerns over rising COVID-19 cases.

“All in favor signify by saying 'I,’” called chairman Eric Cummings at the meeting, “regretfully, four of us agree, one not so. For the 2020 Christmas Parade, Marion County students will not be participating in any parade.”

“This was an agonizing decision for the board to make,” said Kevin Christian, MCSD spokesman, “because many of them have personally participated in the parade, either as a school board member or a member of a marching band during their high school years. It gives you an idea of the longevity of this parade.”

Parents and students said they were very disappointed. Kristy Callum's daughters would both have been marching in this year's Ocala Christmas parade, which regularly draws crowds of more than 50,000 people.

“It's my 8th Grade year,” said Kori Callum, an 8th Grader at Fort King Middle School, “I marched last year, but it's my last year in middle school marching with the people that I'm with in my 8th Grade band, and I'd be very sad not to spend one more performance with them.”

Organizer Sue Mosley, with Friends of the Christmas Parade, said there could have been a compromise. “Even when we've had as much as 80,000 people we still had vacant areas on the boulevard with no people. So there's plenty of room to social distance as far as from a spectator perspective.”

The district says students may choose to march independently, but it will not be with the school's blessing. “They would not be officially representing any public school in Marion County in an official capacity,” Christian said.

Organizers said this wasn’t the end of things though, next the Ocala City council will have to vote on whether or not to grant the Christmas Parade a permit to march, at all.