Prior to Courtney letter is an update of a discussion between district representatives and Courtney's family to revise the prom policy. Courtney's letter is below the updated story.
Policy change coming for prom escorts
By EARL WATT
• Leader & Times
A policy that prevented a member of the military from escorting his younger sister to prom at Liberal High School April 20 may be changing soon.
A youtube video showing Courtney Widener's brother Casey standing at the end of the red carpet while his sister made her way to the entrance without him, and a letter to the editor from Courtney sharing her disappointment sat off a national firestorm that involved Fox News, CNN, Wichita television stations and a barrage of comments on social media web sites.
Both sides came together Monday afternoon to try to bring an end to the spectacle, and it included an apology to Airman Casey Widener from LHS principal Keith Adams.
"I am sorry that Casey Widener was offended or dishonored in any way," Adams said. "That was not our intent."
Both sides received criticism from around the nation. "There's one from New York," Adams said as he checked his email on his iPhone while meeting with Widener, her parents, Superintendent Lance Stout and Deputy Superintendent Paul Larkin. The meeting was requested by Courtney and was facilitated by board member Tammy Sutherland Abbott.
Neither side was attempting to discredit the other, and Courtney wanted to meet with her principal to bring an end to the criticism of him, the district and of her disappointment.
Adams agreed, and the discussion became a two-hour meeting that involved other parties including a television crew and other members of the media.
"We are willing to work and find a remedy to this," Stout said. "It is impossible to go back, but what we can do is make it better for the future."
Courtney's father Roby agreed.
"We want to move forward, and hopefully if there is another situation that comes up like this, we can remedy it," he said. "The policy can remedy it."
The group discussed several ways that the principal can be given greater latitude in allowing those that don't meet the current guidelines, which does not allow anyone 21-years-old or older to participate in prom activities.
"We want the public to know we are not bickering," Roby said. "We want to defuse it and make it a positive for the community."
When Courtney's original request was denied, Roby did not know why until he met with Adams.
"I didn't understand how strict of a box you were in" he said to Adams. "I can see this (request) and it makes total sense, even if it wasn't my son."
But by policy Adams had to refuse the request since Courtney's brother Casey was 22.
"The policy was not intended to disrespect anybody," Adams said. "And certainly not from my point of view. My job is to follow a standard procedure, and he didn't meet eligibility. It sounds crude, but I have 1,200 kids and a lot of times they want to go around the rules."
Having a more flexible policy would allow Adams the opportunity to allow situations like Courtney's to happen.
"I would appreciate having the flexibility in the future to make that decision," Adams said.
Roby defended the existing policy when it came to keeping students protected from those too old to attend the prom.
"I don't want some 35-year-old in with my 17-year-old daughter," he said. "I don't mean to denigrate the policy. I appreciate it. But I do think this is an old policy and it needs to be reviewed."
School district representatives agreed.
Stout also encouraged Courtney to continue to help frame the new policy.
"I would like to know that next year when prom rolls around this wouldn't be an issue," Courtney said. "And not just brothers and sisters but mothers and fathers. I would like to know there is a policy but that this would not be a problem for someone else."
"I respect that," Stout said. "You have a voice in this."
Both sides also agreed to try to end the social media attacks and try to be respectful of each side.
"She still has to go to school next year," Courtney's mother Tiffany Brady said.
The group agreed to continue the discussion so that by next week's regularly scheduled school board meeting, a revision to the policy can be presented that would insure similar situations in the future would not happen again.
LHS prom rules dishonor alumni who served in Afghanistan
By Courtney Widener of Liberal
My name is Courtney Widener, I live in Liberal, and I am a junior at Liberal High School.
Saturday, April 20, was Liberal’s prom, and as a junior, I was allowed to attend as long as I met the requirements and bought a ticket.
After I had finished all of the necessary details that come along with prom, I received extremely exciting news that my brother, Casey Widener, was going to come home for the weekend, and he was planning on escorting me to the prom.
My brother is in the United States Air Force and just recently returned from a deployment to Afghanistan, I have only seen him once since he returned home. I knew that my brother was too old to attend the prom, but I was hoping he would at least be able to escort me down the “red carpet” without going inside.
I went to school the next day, and I could hardly contain my excitement – not only was my hero coming home, but he was also going to escort me to my first prom.
Knowing how strict our prom rules could be, I decided that it would probably be best if I asked our principal for permission. After asking one of our assistant principals, and explaining my situation, she said that she would run it by our head principal but didn’t see a problem with it.
Early the next day, I received the news that it wasn’t approved because, “It would open doors for others.”
I was really shocked at the news for many reasons, I knew that he was too old, but I also know of more questionable people who were actually attending the prom. Not only that, but this is my brother’s alma mater, he graduated from Liberal High School in 2009 and joined the military shortly after, and for some reason unknown to me, he was no longer welcome.
So, after I returned home from school that day I told my mom what happened. Not only was she as surprised as I was, but she was very unhappy with the whole situation. She e-mailed our head principal asking him why Casey wasn’t allowed to escort me when the policy has no restrictions outside of guests who attend the prom.
The next day, he e-mailed her back claiming that the policy includes prom and promenade (the red carpet walk); therefore Casey is too old to escort me.
After going to the principal and being shut down, my parents contacted the superintendent with hopes of a more objective opinion, and, once again, he claimed that the policy for prom also includes promenade, and he is not allowed to walk me up the carpet.
There was nowhere else to go, no one else to ask, I gracefully accepted the decision made by those who are put in this position and trusted with these responsibilities.
But, I do want you to understand exactly what position I was in, and why I was so upset.
Not only is my brother my hero, but he “is” a hero.
Not only did my brother fight for me in Afghanistan, but he fought for “you” in Afghanistan.
So now, the young man who was “too old” was forced to stand alone and watch me walk into my first prom instead of escorting me there himself. The young man who has sacrificed so much for our country was unwelcome at his own alma mater.
As prom approached, we realized that my brother could still be a part of my prom experience without breaking any of the “rules.”
Instead of walking up the carpet with me, my brother would stand at attention, at the edge of the carpet until Lexi and I made it in the building. There was no “policy” against him standing at the end; no “rules” were broken.
But, some eyes were opened. I know that the decisions that were made do not reflect the Liberal community as a whole, in fact, it seems as though nobody in the community agreed that decision was fair, or well thought out.
Promenade is recorded every year and played on the local television channel for those to see who otherwise wouldn’t have been able to go. When it came time for Lexi and I to be shown on TV, we were almost completely cut out of the recording.
Two very honorable students at Liberal High School were punished in order to avoid the possibility of someone catching an American soldier on film. Our family and friends were watching, and expecting to see us, but instead they got two very short glimpses of us getting out of our vehicle, and of us giving our tickets to the front table. We were never shown on the actual carpet.
Policy has never applied to promenade before, but, since it does now, I’m asking that (school administrators and the board of education) consider changing it for special situations or having a different policy altogether for promenade.
Not only was a member of the United States military rejected by our school, but if there was a parent who wanted to escort their son or daughter, they wouldn’t be allowed to.
I never thought I would have to write this letter about my own school.
I never thought our school would be ashamed of their own alumni, much less someone who served our country in Afghanistan.
I never thought I would be punished for following the rules.