ALEXANDRIA, La. (BP)--While it was not the intention of the American Civil Liberties Union, it finally accomplished something that I can applaud. The ACLU has managed to shut down a high school prom.

The Itawamba County Agricultural High School, located in Fulton, Miss., has a policy that stipulates that if couples attend the high school prom they must be of the opposite sex. This year, a lesbian student requested to attend the event with her girlfriend and was denied.

The ACLU stepped in to represent the girl and demanded that the girls be allowed to attend the prom as a couple. Rest assured, when the ACLU speaks, the threat of a lawsuit is always implied.

In response to the lesbian student's request and the ACLU's implied legal action, the Itawamba County School District decided to cancel the event.

A statement released by the school district, located in northern Mississippi, explained its decision to not sponsor the prom was "due to the distractions to the educational process caused by recent events."

Later in the same statement, school district officials said, "It is our hope that private citizens will organize the event for the juniors and seniors."

It is my hope that the action and sentiment of the Itawamba Country School District would become a trend from sea to shining sea.

The goal of public education should be to teach kids reading, writing, arithmetic, history, science, etc. While the process of education takes place in a social environment which does require a child to develop certain people skills, I have yet to see how a prom fits into the equation of a well-rounded education.

Once upon a time the prom actually did have some socially redeeming value.

According to a variety of Internet sites dedicated to all things relating to the prom, the history of the prom dates back to the late 1800s and was adopted by middle class parents in response to the debutante balls of the rich and well-mannered.

According to the website PrettyforProm.com, "Middle class parents admired the poise and composure of debutantes and their escorts and began to institute formal dances as a means of instilling social skills and etiquette in their children. The dances were strictly chaperoned and were often restricted to only the senior class."

The website continues: "The formal dance we now call prom was first christened 'the prom' in the 1890s. The word prom is a shortened form of promenade, meaning a march of the guests at the beginning of a ball or other formal event."

The prom has come a long way since its days as an event designed to instill social graces.

Long gone are the days when a gymnasium decorated with crepe paper would suffice as a venue. A nice suit and dress no longer cut it in today's prom fashion environment and attempting to spike the punch has become passé.

Today's prom venues are ballrooms at posh hotels. Teens spend hundreds of dollars, some even thousands, on dresses, tuxedos and limousines. While alcohol and sex are not recognized as official prom agenda items, they have nevertheless become part and parcel of the experience.

Some irresponsible parents even spend big money on after-the-prom escapades, securing hotel rooms for their teens to frolic in, un-chaperoned. A few even provide alcohol.

Exacerbating the whole prom experience is grinding, the overtly sexual dance style popular with many of today's teens. Grinding makes the slow dancing of other eras look like the Hokey Pokey.

PrettyforProm.com sums up the current reality: "Today's proms have become expensive, all-night affairs, with after-prom activities often extending into the dawn of the next day. Stretch Hummers, fancy dresses, and glamorous ballrooms are now prom-night standards.... Nontraditional couples are also becoming a more common sight at the prom. In practically every way, prom has moved beyond the days of strictly chaperoned, etiquette banquets to glamorous extravaganzas where nearly anything goes."

Should a school district be sponsoring an event that, at the very least, is a gateway to a night in which anything goes? Add to this the pressure to have a date, don the right clothes, arrive in the right transportation, etc., and the prom has more potential for harm than good.

Could someone please enlighten me on the educational and/or social value today's prom provides?

School staff and administration need to concentrate on providing a solid education. They do not need to waste their time sponsoring and chaperoning an expensive event with little or no educational or social value.

If, as the Itawamba County School District suggests in its statement, private citizens -- parents of students -- want to host a prom, more power to them. Let them take on the responsibility and liability of sponsoring an event that has morphed into an expensive night "where nearly anything goes."

Thanks, ACLU, for getting one prom shut down. I can only hope your recent accomplishment will cause even more schools to get out of the prom business.

March 22, 2010

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Kelly Boggs is a weekly columnist for Baptist Press and editor of the Baptist Message (www.baptistmessage.com), newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.