Two Pierson High School seniors protested a potential ban on prom limousines Monday night. In the process, they may have taught the Sag Harbor School Board a lesson that late village resident John Steinbeck would recognize: “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”
The School Board started its meeting by outlining its new policy on public comment. From here on, members said, official procedure was to be followed.
It didn’t take long for it to be put to the test.
A year after alcohol was found in limousines at Pierson High School’s senior prom, a team of Sag Harbor administrators and parents has been considering eliminating private transportation to the event. Word recently reached members of the senior class, according to Pierson High School principal Jeff Nichols, who said it has caused emotional reactions.
Last week, Olivia Bono and Carly Fisher, members of the senior class and student council, voiced outrage to Mr. Nichols, assuming a decision had already been made to ban the one-time rite of passage. “I told them this is a democracy, and you’re welcome to go the Board of Ed meeting and speak your mind,” Mr. Nichols said.
So, on Monday night, just moments after the School Board went over its newly ratified public participation policy, the girls took Mr. Nichols up on his proposition—only to get shut down for not following procedure and signing up for public comment.
After an awkward silence and a dejected “Okay” from Carly, board member Chris Tice stepped up in support of the girls. “This is the Board of Education, and if students come here to address us, especially during midterm week, I’m here to listen,” she said.
Once the board voted to allow the girls to speak, the exchange didn’t get any less contentious.
“We’re here to address the issue of prom limos and party buses, something that has been brought to our attention because of what happened last year,” Olivia began. “I know the board wants to have us take a school bus this year …” she continued, before being cut off by several board members.
“That has not been a board decision at all. It is being discussed by administration,” said School Board President Theresa Samot over the voices of other members distancing themselves from the student’s assertion.
After making it clear that the talk by the administration’s shared decision-making team is just preliminary, the board allowed Olivia to continue.
“We wanted to voice to you the opinion of the seniors that limos and party buses are a big part of the experience of prom,” she said. “Taking them away is not really fair, because what happened last year was not our fault. I can’t guarantee that the same mistakes won’t be made, but I’m here to say that we would like the right to make our own impact, and a chance to not be punished for the choices of others.”
Carly followed, saying that students and parents already sign waivers to pledge abstinence and accept the consequences of drinking or taking drugs at or before prom. Whether they break the pledge in a limousine or a school-sponsored bus shouldn’t matter, she said, and the punishment will be the same.
Carly went so far as to invite faculty members to attend pre-prom parties to supervise the limo send-off.
The girls left with an assurance from the board that their opinions had been heard.
Mr. Nichols then reiterated that the decision-making committee was merely considering recommending the ban to the School Board, which would have the final say. Although the impetus was problems last year, he said that “unacceptable limo-related conduct” has occurred throughout the past five years.
“For me, it’s all about trying to balance the right amount of freedom for kids and safety,” Mr. Nichols said Tuesday by phone. “[Eliminating the limo option] is not something I want to do, but we’ve had some situations.”
“The simple logic is that if we can take over their stewardship at the school with a bus, then we decrease the chances of them ingesting drugs or alcohol in a limo, or any other vehicle, on the way to prom,” Mr. Nichols said.
“I know this must be a really big deal to the kids—when I was their age, I know I would be passionate about it—but my primary concern has to be the welfare of the students.”
He said the committee would try to make its recommendation to the board within a month.
Also at Monday’s meeting, the board discussed cost-saving measures and a professional development plan for all district employees, as well as parents who’d like to participate.
Athletic Director Todd Gulluscio outlined his proposed 2014-15 budget. As part of the district’s attempt to share more services to save money, he said the district would do away with its junior varsity tennis program, merging it with the East Hampton School District’s. Bridgehampton will also be sending tennis-playing students to East Hampton. According to Mr. Gulluscio, the change will save $6,000 next year.
“I see this as a great example of short-term, reasonable consolidation,” Ms. Tice said.
“Right,” the athletic director said. “Why are two neighbors struggling to do something that they are both trying to accomplish?”
Mr. Gulluscio also announced the permanent elimination of the goalie coach position for both soccer programs and the state champion field hockey team. That will save $12,000 originally budgeted for next year, he said.
Even so, he said, inflation and salary increases will still bring the athletic department budget to $772,417, almost a 2-percent increase.
Pierson Middle School Assistant Principal Brittany Miaritis, who is spearheading the district’s overhaul of its professional development plan, outlined her progress for the School Board.
“We’re doing some cool stuff with the Professional Development Planning Committee,” she said. “We want to be lifelong learners, ongoing learners.”
Ms. Miaritis said the committee is assessing all areas of need, but so far has found teachers most need training in Common Core standards and the school’s International Baccalaureate programs.
She also expressed a desire to educate all staff, from hall monitors to administration, about social and emotional development techniques.
“Believe it or not, schools and businesses used to have professional development days,” said interim superintendent Dr. Carl Bonuso. “As if it wasn’t something that should be ongoing, daily. This ongoing development of our teachers and staff is crucial to ongoing success of our students.”