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Sometimes the process of public policy gets tangled in a prom dress E-mail
Tuesday, 30 April 2013 08:45

By L&T Publisher Earl Watt

In any disagreement, the first determination that has to be made by all parties is deciding who is wrong and who is right.
That approach is not helpful to reaching a better outcome for the future.
To assign guilt generally results in walls being built, and both sides defending their case louder and louder and with more and more hostility.
The supporters of each draw lines, and we have factions.
This is no more apparent than the recent enforcement of an age rule that prevented a Liberal High School junior from having her 22-year-old brother escort her to the front door of the school so she can enjoy prom.
The rule states clearly that he was too old to attend prom.
The rule has a clear purpose, one that most parents would support. No one wants their teenage children attending a dance with 22-year-old adults. 
However, Courtney Widener didn’t ask for her brother to attend prom, merely to escort her to the door.
Since prom added a feature more than a decade ago outside the building that provides the red-carpet approach, parents have lined the sides of the red carpet, right up to the entry, to see these young men and women make their way to their prom, dressed to the tee. The event is even broadcast live over local television.
Since the event does happen on school property, the district has set up roped turnstiles to keep the well-wishers back as the students make their way to prom.
This is where the gray area comes into play.
Is walking up to the door a part of prom or not?
There are good cases to be made on both sides of the argument.
The walk-in has become known as “promenade,” and could be considered an extension of prom itself.
The case could also be made that the red carpet event wouldn’t take place on its own, and is only a support of the prom itself.
Others could make the case that parents and well-wishers, well be yond the age of 22, are allowed right up to the entry of the school, and allowing a brother to escort his sister to the door is not granting him any more access than what is already provided to the general public.
Others may also make the case that registration for prom takes place inside the school, and that is the place where the restrictions for admission begin.
All of this puts us back to the gray area of the red carpet, and depending on who is rendering the interpretation could determine whether or not “promenade” is or is not an extension of prom.
LHS principal Keith Adams was within his duty to make a call on the rule. Like an umpire calling balls and strikes, some of the calls are on the corners, but he made his call.
When Courtney took her concern public by sharing a video of the event and explaining her disappointment in the interpretation of the rule, she had every right to question the rule, its application, and requesting a change.
So who was in the wrong, the principal or the student.
In fact, both should be commended, and here is why:
Adams has to make decisions that don’t apply to just one situation but to every situation, otherwise he would be showing favoritism. He made no exception to the rule. The message was sent clear that there will be no exceptions to following rules and it is our hope that he uses the same judgment in every school policy.
Courtney did not make a scene at prom. She accepted the ruling and walked up the red carpet with a friend while her brother stood at the edge of the restricted carpet. No one in attendance knew the otherwise that there was a young girl hurting inside from what she saw as a bad rule.
A week after the prom, she shared her story with the community, and she had every right to do so.
Those who spout off on social media sites can jump to conclusions on both sides and make wild accusations either way. 
But we are left with a gray area and an ambiguous rule. Offering a clarification would be helpful for administrators and students. I believe there will be a revision of the policy that will work for all concerned, and in the end, that is how policies are changed.
Sometimes, a policy meant to protect students ends up extending beyond its intent, and administrators have to apply a rule in areas that it was never intended, some lawyers like to call unintended consequences.
What Courtney did took courage. For a high school junior to take a difficult situation and put it into writing was not easy, and she should save the piece for an assignment that requires persuasive writing.
What Adams did took courage. Knowing the decision would be unpopular the moment he made it, he was willing to take the criticism to stand behind the rules.
Now let’s reward both with a policy that correctly reflects the ability of administrators to protect students but does not reach beyond the confines of the building itself.
Our administration, students and school board can surely find a reasonable solution that will prevent this awkward situation from happening in the future.
To do that, we have to stop looking for someone to blame and start looking for a better policy.

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The High Plains Daily Leader and Southwest Daily Times are published Sunday through Friday and reaches homes throughout the Liberal, Kansas retail trade zone. The Leader & Times is the official newspaper of Seward County, USD No. 480, USD No. 483 and the cities of Liberal and Kismet.  The Leader & Times is a member of the Liberal Chamber of Commerce, the Kansas Press Association and the Associated Press.

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