Board, students butt heads on prom plans

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School board cites liability, safety issues when saying no to prom in downtown Louisville

By Mallory Bilger

If a Spencer County Board of Education decision stands, local high school students will not be allowed to travel off campus for the junior-senior prom.
The Spencer County High School prom has been held in the school gymnasium for decades, but this year, members of the junior and senior class were hoping to move the spring school-sponsored social event off site. The board heard a request at its Aug. 27 meeting from student council members and prom coordinators that the board consider the option of the prom being held on April 26 — a Friday evening — at the Frazier History Museum in Louisville. But the board ended up supporting member Scott Travis’ motion to hold the 2013 prom at the school. Board members Shannon Medley, Sandy Clevenger and Travis voted to hold the prom at the school, while board member Jeanie Stevens voted against that motion. Board member Mary Ann Carden was absent.
According to the proposal, students would have the option of driving to the prom following dinner, but the high school would also provide a bus for any students needing transportation to the event.
Superintendent Chuck Adams and several board members voiced like-minded opinions that the liability taken on by the school by locating the prom in downtown Louisville was too much of a risk. Student safety also topped the list of concerns voiced.
“Based on previous experience . . . we can legally allow this to happen if we follow the proper protocol,” Adams said. “However, there is no guarantee that it releases any or all liability in the event of a tragic accident.”
Stevens said she understood the concerns, but saw taking the prom outside of Spencer County as a cultural learning experience for students who might not have the opportunity otherwise.
“I feel like it may be an educational experience with a lot of these kids who may not have the opportunity to do that,” Stevens said. “I also think that if it’s here at home, there’s a party five miles from here where they are going to leave early and attend.”
High school teacher and prom co-sponsor Rachel Dunaway told the board the request was being made because so many students had voiced a desire to move the dance off campus. According to a prom survey conducted of junior and senior students, 64 juniors wanted to move the prom off campus, while four juniors wanted it to remain at the school. Seventy-two seniors indicated they wanted the prom moved off campus, while 12 voted they wanted it to remain at the school.
“We were acting out of a request from our students that they want to move it elsewhere,” Dunaway said.
Teacher and prom co-sponsor Lee Anne Day seconded that statement.
“Several years we have heard from our students that they want to move it elsewhere,” Day said.
Dunaway and Day also said that holding the prom at the school often takes away valuable instructional time due to the hours spent decorating and preparing the gymnasium. Dunaway said if the prom was held at the Frazier museum, decorating would be mostly handled by the museum, preparation would take less than a day and no students would need to miss classes. She said the museum rental price would be $3,000, which included tables, the space and security. Dunaway said the proposal to move the prom to Frazier History Museum would probably actually save the students money, noting that the event cost around $8,000 when it was held at the school last year.
“It is a very classy place that I think kids may not otherwise have an opportunity to see,” Dunaway said.
Sponsors and students also voiced concerns that the gym was becoming too small of a venue for the event because class sizes were growing. An estimated 400 to 450 attended last year’s prom.
Senior student representative Rebecca Berry said decorating for the 2012 prom was a hassle that caused her to miss class. Berry told the board that not allowing the school to move the prom off campus was unfair, noting that numerous surrounding districts do not have prom on campus.
“To me, it’s just not fair,” Berry told the board. “I’m only going to prom one more time. Last year was an absolute hassle.”
Clevenger said she appreciated the students’ desire to move the prom, but that student safety was her first concern as a board member.
“The liability issues and the safety issues are just something that you can’t measure,” Clevenger said. “It’s hard for me to think otherwise. It all sounds nice and it sounds like it would be wonderful and they would love it, but I can’t get past that. I’m concerned.”
Medley agreed with Clevenger’s concerns.
“I’ve had parents express the same concern to me as well,” Medley said. “It’s the safety and it’s the issue of being on the interstate and going to downtown Louisville. Some students aren’t used to traveling on the interstate.”
Dunaway and Day both echoed sentiments that they would be unable to miss class and contribute to the hours that go into decorating the gymnasium. They said it took too much time away from instructional class hours and family time.
“Ms. Day and I have agreed we have no interest in decorating, we have no interest in sponsoring the prom if we have it at our school. It’s time away from everything. It’s five days versus one,” Dunaway said.
Adams said the only way he would support the request to move prom off campus was if the school transported everyone by charter bus. District Director of Operations Brett Beaverson estimated a charter bus rental to cost around $800 per bus.
But despite pleading from the sponsors and students, the board stuck with its decision. Travis said he appreciated everyone’s arguments, but felt that keeping the prom in Spencer County was the best decision to protect student safety, protect the district and promote local business.
“The pros of having it here outweigh the cons,” Travis said.
Berry said she left the meeting frustrated and felt as if the request was not heard fully.
“We think the big issue is (the board) doesn’t think the parents are getting all the information,” Berry said following the meeting. “We are going to send out a letter (to parents) that explains everything.”
Berry said she and senior class vice president Emily Browning were hoping to rally support for moving the prom off campus before the board’s next meeting.
“At the next board meeting we are going to get several parents to voice their opinions,” Berry said. “I think they didn’t even give us a chance and that aggravated me.”
The next regular Board of Education meeting is scheduled for Sept. 24, 6:30 p.m., in the high school media center. The board is set to meet Thursday of this week but it is a special-called meeting and discussion surrounding the prom is not on the agenda.