Mayor: Punishment Doesn't Fit Crime in Case of Connecticut Teen Barred From Prom

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Published May 11, 2011

| FoxNews.com

A Connecticut teenager who has been barred from attending his senior prom after posting an oversize message to the front of his high school should be allowed to attend the dance, the town's mayor told FoxNews.com.

Shelton Mayor Mark Lauretti said he's unsure that the "punishment fits the crime" for James Tate, an 18-year-old senior at Shelton High School who, along with two friends, posted 12-inch tall cardboard letters outside the school’s main entrance last Thursday night so students would see the message in the morning.

The letters read: "Sonali Rodrigues, Will you go to the prom with me? HMU -Tate." HMU means hit me up, or call me.

"Based on what I know, I'm not sure that the punishment fits the crime," Lauretti said. "This may very well be a situation that needs a second look. Part of the problem in today's world is that we make policies or recommendations without common sense or flexibility built in and we lose sight of the big picture. This may be one of those situations."

Lauretti said Tate and his family have deep "roots" in the community, with his father serving on a city commission and his mother on the city's historical society.

"They're very involved," he said. "I would hope that higher priorities are given to higher offenses. I'm not sure what the crime is here; we're talking about something that happened at night."

The target of Tate's affection -- Rodrigues -- said yes, but the Advanced Placement student and his two friends have been given one-day in-house suspensions by the headmaster and barred from the prom.

“I was telling her for the longest time that I was going to go with her, but, you know, I was waiting for a special time, special way to ask her,” Tate told Fox CT. “And then I did that, and this is what happened.”

Repeated calls to Shelton High School Headmaster Beth Smith were not returned on Wednesday, but Tate told The Connecticut Post he was told the posting constituted trespassing and posed a safety risk.

Shelton Police Department Lt. Robert Kozlowsky told FoxNews.com that the incident was not handled by authorities.

"That wasn't a police matter," he said, adding that no complaints had been received in connection to the incident. "It's something we could go to [reports of trespassing], but we weren't involved in that."

Tom Murphy, a spokesman for the Connecticut State Department of Education, said local school officials "do have the authority" to investigate the incident and to determine what is a "fair and appropriate" disciplinary action.

"At the same time, a student does have the right to appeal and to request reconsideration," Murphy said. "But attending the prom is a privilege. Students should understand that. Students are expected to follow the rules to take part in an extracurricular activity."

In a statement to FoxNews.com issued Wednesday, Shelton Public Schools Superintendent Freeman Burr declined to comment on the matter.

"In response to your recent inquiry, I am aware of the local, state and national media attention surrounding the situation and I have no further comments regarding the matter at this time," Burr's statement read.

Tracey Tate, James' mother, told FoxNews.com that James was scheduled to take an Advanced Placement test in statistics on Wednesday and that this was "absolutely" the first time he had been in any trouble at school.

"I think it was not handled correctly," Tracey Tate said of the school's response. "There should have been other ways to handle the situation. He just wanted to make a great impression on this girl."

Tate said she was surprised at the outpouring of support for her son, including a Facebook page created to announce an alternative dance to the prom.

"I have no idea where it came from, I have no idea how it multiplied and I'm in awe and a little terrified, frankly," she told FoxNews.com. "He's coming out looking like a good guy."

As of Wednesday evening, Tate said she has not heard from the school district since Tuesday, but is more optimistic that Shelton High School could reverse their decision and let James go to the prom.

Tate said her son plans to attend Syracuse University this fall, perhaps to study real estate or business. For now, she's unsure what will come next.

"We'll let everything play out, but we don't know what the next chapter might be," she said. "He's 18. We're lifelong learners and this is an especially critical time for young men."

Many students and parents told Fox CT that they thought the gesture was creative and the punishment too harsh.

With prom just a few weeks away, Tate said he was sorry for the violation and that he primarily wanted to get his friends out of trouble.

“I just wanted to go to prom,” Tate told Fox CT.

Tate, meanwhile, isn't the only Shelton High School student barred from this year's prom, according to the Facebook page dedicated to the senior.

"6 other seniors and I had our prom privileges taken away from the elevator incident last week," read one posting by Shanar Lorthe. "I understand it was a stupid decision on our part, but our prom shouldn't have been taken away."

The posting apparently refers to a May 4 incident during which 13 students piled into an elevator, causing it to become stuck between two floors. No students were injured, but school officials said it caused a major disruption, according to the Valley Independent Sentinel.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Click here to watch Fox CT’s story on the prom suspension.

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http://www.foxnews.com/us/2011/05/11/conn-teen-posted-prom-invite-barred-dance/