Although no official decision will be made until early March, it appears months of debate and years of bad examples at Pierson High School proms might not stop this year’s senior class from riding to the event in limousines.
When members of the school’s shared decision-making team—a coalition of parents, teachers, administrators and students—began discussing the topic, rumors began swirling of a limo-less prom as a means to curb drug and alcohol use at the event.
At consecutive Sag Harbor School Board meetings, students protested a decision that they saw as already set in stone, and then high school Principal Jeff Nichols presented four transportation options that the administration was considering for the prom.
Saying that the decision is something that the shared decision-making team has “been struggling with,” Mr. Nichols said in his office on Monday that while the team as a whole was in favor of having students meet at the school, be searched by security guards and hop on a school-sponsored coach bus, “the students on the team were not in favor, obviously.” A majority of the School Board members, after hearing from both sides, have stood by the shared decision-making team’s recommendation.
But, Mr. Nichols said, the game changed late last week, when the parents of students in 11th and 12th grade were asked to fill out an online survey, giving them two of the four original options suggested by the team. “Due to several disciplinary incidents involving students bringing alcohol onto limousines and party buses, the district is considering several different transportation options,” the email read.
The first option was the one supported by the shared decision-making team: school, search, coach bus. The second option on the survey was to continue the limousine tradition, but have the students searched upon exiting the vehicles at the prom.
Although it wasn’t expressly stated, Mr. Nichols said it was inherent in option two that the security search, conducted by an outside security firm “probably made up of ex-cops,” would be more extensive—although it would stop short of using a Breathalyzer on students.
The parents voted, by a margin of 3-to-1, to allow the limousines, according to the principal.
No formal decision has been made, but Mr. Nichols said he thinks what the parents want should be taken into account, and he allowed that he was now leaning towards allowing limos. He said a formal decision should be made at the next School Board meeting on March 10.
Regardless of the fact that the School Board is somewhat split on the issue—with only one board member, David Diskin, speaking in favor of the limo tradition, while the rest seem to support the restrictions—a previous statement from Mr. Nichols that the decision was in the board’s hands is incorrect. Ultimately, the choice will be in the hands of Mr. Nichols and his staff, said board member Mary Anne Miller and Interim Superintendent Dr. Carl Bonuso.
“I have no problem with prohibiting private transportation to and from the prom,” Ms. Miller wrote in an email on Monday. “I also think it is a great idea to have a central meeting place for all students attending the prom, as there are many positives to this change.”
Ms. Miller suggested the school could create a red-carpet-type event for the students’ arrival at Pierson, noting the expense for families who host lavish parties. “You build more of a connection within the class and the event if you encourage more inclusive components,” she wrote.
But, in the end, “I believe it is not a BOE decision but rather an administrative issue and concern,” she wrote. “I also believe that the student code of conduct policy, if fully enforced, would address many of the ongoing issues with the student behavior at the prom.”
Ms. Miller said that in addition to having the power of the choice, the administration must be held accountable for supervision and safety at the event, which means “disciplining the students when they act inappropriately.”
“The consequences have not been consistently applied in previous years and the kids are very aware of this,” she wrote.
Painting a positive outcome for the prom whichever option is explored, Dr. Bonuso said by phone: “It seems as if we’re all on the same page for a safe, enjoyable experience all around. How that is accomplished is being left to administration.”