School board reverses vote, prom can be held off campus

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By Mallory Bilger

Spencer County High School students will have the option to hold prom off campus this spring, as the Spencer County Board of Education has reversed its initial vote requiring that the event be held on campus.
The decision came following board attorney Grant Chenoweth’s opinion shared with board members via memorandum at the Sept. 24 board meeting, which noted that the district would not incur any additional liability hosting prom off campus as opposed to on campus. Chenoweth does not generally attend board meetings unless requested, and was not in attendance at the Aug. 27 meeting when the issue was initially presented. Board members Scott Travis, Shannon Medley and Sandy Clevenger voted Aug. 27 to hold the prom at the school, while board member Jeanie Stevens voted against that motion. Board member Mary Ann Carden was absent from that meeting.
Student safety — especially while traveling — and district liability were the board’s biggest concerns, but Chenoweth addressed those issues in his memorandum in a way that apparently satisfied board members enough to reverse the decision.
“It is the opinion of this office that the Board would not risk any greater liability by sponsoring or endorsing a student activity on property which does not belong to the Board of Education, regardless of where that property is located, than the Board would bear for conducting an activity on Board-owned property, and that the Board bears no responsibility for providing transportation for students to and from events conducted off of school property,” Chenoweth wrote in the memo.
SCHS faculty members and prom co-sponsors Lee Anne Day and Rachel Dunaway, along with several senior student council members, told the board in August they were considering the Frazier Museum in downtown Louisville as a possible location.  A second possible location — the Holiday Inn Louisville East on S. Hurstbourne Parkway —was also named at the September meeting. Day and Dunaway shared concerns  with the board in August that hosting the prom in the high school gym had become a difficult, labor-intensive task that neither students nor faculty had time to tackle. Concerns about the gym being too small to house the event were also voiced.
Adams emphasized that in August presenters made board members feel they needed to make an immediate decision — which forced the board to vote without consulting the district’s legal counsel.
“When we had the previous conversation on the prom, I want to make certain that it was understood at that point in time . . . when the question was asked by the board, when do you have to know, and the answer was tonight, that was the deal breaker,” Adams said.  
Chenoweth’s memo noted two legal issues that board members needed to take into consideration when sponsoring or endorsing any event, and those were student supervision during the event and the reasonable safety/security of the chosen venue.
Travis made the motion at the September meeting that, in short, charged the superintendent, board chair and the high school site-based decision making council to collaborate on where the prom would be held, given that student supervision and reasonable safety at the chosen venue could be provided. Stevens seconded the motion and all members voted in favor of it. Carden was absent from the September meeting.
Chenoweth directed the board that it does need to be the entity signing the lease agreement with the chosen venue, which indirectly still allows the board to say yes or no to any suggested location.
Dunaway and Day told the board they already had parents volunteering to chaperone prom, and that they were confident that student safety would be a major priority, no matter what location was chosen.  
Some parents did show up to the September board meeting to voice their opinions on the matter. Parent Amy Lashley said that although she would prefer that the prom not be held in downtown Louisville, she did believe the location should be the students’ choice.
“Personally, I don’t think the gym is large enough for the class that we have this year,” Lashley said. “It should be whatever the majority of the students want.”
Parent Mary Browning said she assisted with prom cleanup last year, and that it was overwhelming for the few volunteers who participated.
“I know that when we went to tear it down there were less than 10 sets of parents that were there to tear it down,” Browning said. “You do not have the parent involvement, you honestly don’t have the student involvement.”
High school faculty member and long-time prom coordinator Roxanne Perry said she was giving up the task because it was so overwhelming and she had become “burnt out” with the daunting task. She said it was difficult to find volunteers to help set up and tear down the decorations in the gym, and that the gym was fast becoming too small for the event.
“It’s been a wonderful tradition,” Perry said. “I just think it’s time for that change. I just think it’s time to have it away from here.”
The issue will come before the board again when it is time for it to enter into a lease agreement with the chosen venue. A definite location has not yet been selected.