By Jordan Freisleben and Daniel Rotherberg
Seniors and their parents must sign a pledge of good behavior to buy tickets for the May 14 Prom at the Renaissance Hotel, Prefects announced at the senior class meeting last week. The fate of prom was in jeopardy after students went to the hospital as a result of excessive drinking at the unauthorized semiformal afterparty in January.
The pledge warns that students will receive a minimum punishment of a one-day suspension if they arrive at prom intoxicated, plan or attend an afterparty at a non-residential venue, “occupy” a room in the Renaissance Hotel during prom weekend or if alcohol or drugs are found in their limo.
The one-day suspension punishment is reportable to colleges, Prefect Council adviser and Upper School Dean Tamar Adegbile said.
“It has given us an opportunity to say if somebody does violate it or breaks some of the rules, we’re going to suspend them, and that does mean we’re going to have to notify colleges, and we don’t want to be in that position,” Head of Upper School Harry Salamandra said.
Head of School Jeanne Huybrechts said that a similar agreement has been used for senior retreat.
“This seems to be a workable model for senior retreat in that students who participate in senior retreat are promising in advance that they will not drink or get in trouble,” Huybrechts said.
The pledge ends with students promising to “act responsibly” throughout the night.
“My behavior will reflect my maturity and intelligence and goodness, and will honor the trust my family and school have placed in me,” the pledge states.
“I was surprised at how far the students were willing to go. I wasn’t sure they would be, which I guess says that the kids as a whole, this class, is more concerned about the safety of their peers that maybe I would have given them credit for,” Upper School Dean Canh Oxelson said. “After semiformal, a lot of the talk that I had heard from most kids was ‘Oh, it’s not that big of a deal.’ Well, we thought it was a big deal, so I was kind of surprised when students came back and said ‘No, no. We think it has to go this far.’”
“Coming out of semiformal and the afterparty that weekend, I think the general psyche of the school and student body was impacted,” Head Prefect Chris Holthouse ’11 said. “What we have been saying all along is that the pledge is nothing more than officially acting upon common sense.”
The school is also making a concerted effort to inform parents about the dangers associated with the activities after school-sponsored dances, such as semiformal and prom, Huybrechts said.
Last week, the Parents’ Association Meeting featured speakers that educated more than 100 parents about the legal ramifications associated with consuming alcohol as a minor as well as serving alcohol to minors. The school will also be sending a letter to parents and administrators will be speaking in senior class meeting before prom.
“It is a multi-faceted intervention designed to keep kids safe,” Huybrechts said.
“The number one thing we are trying to do to address this problem is to empower, encourage and educate the parent body,” Chaplain Father J. Young said. “We really are taking an active stance in that and it’s because of semiformal. Semiformal was the last straw.”
The prefects began exploring options to reform prom after it was announced that prom was in jeopardy due to misbehavior following semiformal afterparty.
“After semiformal and everything that had occurred, administrators – primarily deans – felt that we really needed to start over from the drawing board and there was a real push to cancel prom.” Adegbile said.
Adegbile said that though Huybrechts was not in favor of canceling prom, she wanted administrators and deans to work together to devise a solution for a safer prom.
In March, the prefects hosted a voluntary “town hall-style” meeting in Chalmers for seniors in March.
The prefects then met with dean groups, pitching ideas from the “town hall” meeting and soliciting other ideas. At that meeting, the prefects promised to send out a copy of their proposal to reform prom to the senior class before submitting to the seniors.
“It ended up with the deans and administrators in a way that we had not initially hoped it would,” Holthouse said. “We had planned on completing almost a final draft of the pledge…and bouncing that one final time off the senior class.”
The proposal wound up with the administration after they received information that members of the senior class purportedly had plans to engage in harmful activities during the prom.
“According to the information we got, kids were going to drink a lot and roam around Hollywood,” Salamandra said. “We just want people to be safe, and if people are going to engage in the same kind of behavior that ended up getting a few kids into the hospital at semiformal, then we don’t want to do anything that’s going to perpetuate that problem. That’s why I think people became a little more negative, but there’s no way to know if that’s hearsay or not.”
“It got changed a little bit when the [administration] received some information that seemed to indicate from a source who seemed to have some information about plans afoot by some members of the senior class to engage in some risky behavior on prom night that was particularly troublesome,” Huybrechts said.
“We have reason to believe that…at least this person was reporting what he or she had heard,” Huybrechts said. “It was serious sounding, so it gave us pause.”
In light of the information, the deans discussed whether going forward with prom was a good idea, Huybrechts said.
“I think [the new information] sort of built the momentum back up to consider not having prom,” Adegbile said.
However, the decision was made to move forward and the pledge was submitted to Huybrechts and Salamandra.
“The decision was made to show me and [Salamandra] the ‘contract’ that the Prefect Council had already formulated,” Huybrechts said. “Both [Salamandra] and I thought that perhaps the pledge is all we need.”
Huybrechts said that the Prefect Council believed it was very important to include explicit guidelines regarding the punishment for reneging on the pledge.
“We heard that it would be better to have very explicit language inside of this pledge so that kids quite frankly knew what they were getting into if they did violate one of these rules,” Holthouse said. “There would be a minimum of a one day suspension that is reportable to college.”
“When it enters into the suspension realm, our hands our tied, we must report it to colleges,” Adegbile said. “We feel like, particularly this year, after semiformal, if anyone violates a rule that’s spelled out like that, that is something a college should know and would want to know about.”
“At this point, between having parents sign off on this pledge, making sure students heard loud and clear that the consequences will be suspension, whether it’s happening on campus or off campus, it’s been written into the rules that we’ll have the ability to penalize even if the occasion is off-campus,” Salamandra said. “These are all things that are all good reminders for people.”
Salamandra said that he’s optimistic that the pledge will work.
“It may not work, but I hope it does,” he said. “It would be nice to say that we know how to put together and can put together a prom. It’d be nice to leave a legacy that the seniors can walk away from and be proud of.”