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Prom Season: Lessons Learned


Prom season is often filled with excitement and anticipation as teens make preparations for “The Big Night” and the next phase of their young lives.

For two young people from decidedly different ends of the spectrum, this prom season has been about doing what’s right. High school students James Tate and Craig Cassey made national headlines last week when each proved that good things can come from difficult situations.

From these stories, school administrators and students alike can learn lessons about: (1) the value of flexible (as opposed to zero-tolerance, one-size-fits-all) disciplinary consequences; and (2) celebration of diversity and its positive impact on school climate.


James Tate: Banned From Prom After "Romantic Gesture" Breaks School Rule

Tate was prohibited from attending his Connecticut prom after erecting a sign on the school building asking classmate Sonali Rodrigues to be his date. Because the act broke school rules, he was suspended. That punishment also carried with it a prom ban because it happened so late in the year.

The ensuing media frenzy that occurred led to an outcry from literally hundreds of thousands of people. People from as far away as China, and as prominent as Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy, felt the ban was too harsh. The groundswell of letters and emails eventually forced headmaster Beth Smith to reverse her decision and allow the couple to attend prom.

In her statement, Smith said she would begin imposing alternate consequences for student misbehavior on a case-by-case basis.

Educator resources related to the James Tate story include:


Craig Cassey: School Elects Gay Prom King

Cassey’s prom was significantly less volatile, and that is exactly why it is so noteworthy. Without any special campaign, involvement of civil rights groups, or special instructions from administrators, Cassey, an openly gay athlete, was voted prom king at his suburban Philadelphia school.

He said the coronation was a highlight, filled with congratulations. There wasn’t a single slur uttered. He also praised his school, saying it had a consistently excellent climate of acceptance.

In the wake of so many tragedies like the case of Rutgers student Tyler Clementi, who committed suicide after his sexual orientation was revealed against his will by classmates, a story like Cassey’s offers hope to many sexual minority students who may be suffering.

Educator resources related to the Craig Cassey story include:

  • Wondering what you, as an educator, can do when you encounter a student who is struggling with his/her sexual identity? Are you looking to increase awareness and tolerance within your school building? GLSEN’s Educator Center offers lesson plans, school-wide activities and guides to help make school a safe place for LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered) kids.
  • Know an LGBT student who is in crisis? Refer him/her for professional counseling services, access the Trevor Project to prevent suicide, and encourage the student to check out the It Gets Better Project. The project was created to show young LGBT people the levels of happiness, potential, and positivity their lives will reach – if they can just get through their teen years. It Gets Better has turned into a worldwide movement, inspiring over 10,000 user-created videos viewed over 35 million times. To date, the project has received submissions from celebrities, organizations, activists, politicians and media personalities, including President Barack Obama and many more.


Article by Jason Tomaszewski, EducationWorld Associate Editor
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