When Shelton High School senior Sonali Rodrigues arrived to school one Friday morning, she had no idea what she was in for.
Her classmate James Tate, an honors student with no prior disciplinary record, had taped 12-inch-high cardboard letters to the front of the school building which read: “SONALI RODRIGUES WILL YOU GO TO PROM WITH ME? HMU [hit me up] – TATE.” Rodrigues quickly accepted Tate’s invitation to prom, but school headmaster Beth A. Smith canned the date.
Smith suspended Tate and his friends that helped him tape up the cardboard letters from school for a day, and according to the school’s official suspension policy, any student suspended after April 1 is banned from the upcoming prom on June 4.
State officials, such as Tom Murphy, a spokesman for the Connecticut State Department of Education, said that attending prom “is a privilege,” and that “students should understand that [they are] expected to follow the rules to take part in an extracurricular activity.
However, that did not stop Tate and Rodrigues from going on NBC’s “Today” to discuss the incident. After their television appearance, the news of Tate’s prom exclusion snowballed. A Facebook fan page called “Let James Tate Go to the Prom” quickly started and gained over 200,000 fans in less than a week.
Even the government started becoming involved with the incident. Connecticut governor Dannel Malloy spoke publicly of it: “While it seems that there are rules that were broken, in this case, it doesn’t seem as though the punishment fits the crime,” Malloy said.
Although Smith continued to stand by her decision, on May 14, she announced that she would reverse her decision, claiming that the publicity that had stemmed from the incident was “affecting the culture of Shelton High School.”
The day of her decision, a new Facebook group, called “James Tate for Prom King 2011” was launched, and currently boasts over 4,000 members.
Tate, who plans on attending Syracuse University in the fall, said he thinks that “this whole thing has been blown completely out of proportion, but it’s cool.”
Prom season is upon Staples as well (junior prom is May 21, and senior prom is June 4), and many students have expressed their opinions about the James Tate incident.
“I think it is kind of stupid that he got into so much trouble for putting cardboard letters on a wall,” Chelsea Steinberg ’12 said. “Not going to prom seems like a very dramatic punishment for something that could easily have been fixed with a ‘You should remove the cardboard letters.’”
However, Staples students also have their own take on the issue at hand.
“I think that it was a nice way to ask a girl to prom,” Sylvie Lexow ’14 said. “Yes, it might have broken the rules, but I think schools should look at situations case-by-case, not as a whole.”
Shelby Phares ’13 furthers Lexow’s point, adding that there should not have been any consequences, and that Smith’s initial punishment was “so dumb.”
Some students, like Carson Einarsen ’12, have noted that the Tate incident is a microcosm of the interconnectedness we have in today’s technological age.
“The only reason the principal changed her mind was because of all the support that was backing [Tate]. If it wasn’t for Facebook and the media, she probably wouldn’t have changed her mind,” Einarsen said.
Einarsen added that he feels if administrators are fighting the unpopular fight, “they might want to reconsider.”
According to Principal John Dodig, had the same type of incident happened at Staples, the administrative response would not have been the same. He says that if a Staples student put up cardboard letters on the front of the building like Tate, the administration would simply take them down.
“Even though there may be no damage, it’s a public building, as we would have to take them down as an ordinance of defacing a public building,” Dodig said.
Dodig claims that he has not had any experiences during his administration at Staples where he banned a student from prom, but he does believe that there are certain limits.
“Let’s say a kid got busted for pot five days before prom, and he gets a 10-day school suspension. He would not be allowed to go to prom,” Dodig said.
Ultimately, in Dodig’s eyes, he feels that something like what Tate did “is not the worst thing in the world that could happen.”