Published May 12, 2011
EXCLUSIVE: The pride of Connecticut's Shelton High School -- NFL quarterback Dan Orlovsky -- knows exactly what James Tate is going through after being barred from his prom for posting a message outside his school asking another student to the dance.
Orlovsky, who graduated from the school in 2001 and now plays for the Houston Texans, also missed his last dance as a senior at Shelton High School after he was suspended for faking an illness during class to go play basketball. Looking back on the outcome now, Orlovsky wishes he had gone to his prom -- and hopes school administrators will now reconsider their decision regarding Tate.
"Yeah, I think it's ridiculously harsh," Orlovsky told FoxNews.com regarding Tate's banishment. "I get school rules and lines and boundaries, but what's the alternative here? Reprimand the kid if you want, but to make an example out of him like this is taking a lot of the fun out of being a senior in high school. It's kind of comical."
Shelton High School Headmaster Beth Smith said in a statement Thursday afternoon that Tate cannot attend the prom and the school will not reverse its decision.
"There has been a practice at Shelton High School for many years that any student receiving an in-school or out of school suspension after April 1 for any reason would not be allowed to attend the prom," the statement read. "This regulation is reinforced over the course of the spring by daily PA system reminders, posted signage in common areas of the building and classrooms, as well as informational letters and automated phone messages to parents."
"This unfortunate situation is a result of one of those consequences."
Orlovsky, 27, said he hopes Smith realizes that next month's prom is an experience Tate will not be able to get back.
"He's not going to be able to experience it again," he said. "Do I wish I had gone? Yeah, probably, but I was being made an example of."
As the controversy surrounding Tate grows, two state representatives are drafting legislation that would allow the senior to put on his dancing shoes.
Tate, 18, was given a one-day suspension and is barred from the school's prom on June 4 for asking student Sonali Rodrigues to the dance by taping a message to the front of the school last Thursday.
The 12-inch cardboard letters read: ""Sonali Rodrigues, Will you go to prom with me? HMU -Tate." HMU means hit me up, or call me.
The punishment has prompted state Reps. Jason Perillo, R-Shelton, and Sean Williams, R-Waterbury, to introduce an amendment that would force schools to provide an alternate means of punishment rather than banning students from school-related activities.
"Currently drafting legislative language that would allow James to go to the prom," Perillo posted on Twitter last night.
Perillo later tweeted that the measure was being cosponsored by Williams.
Perillo wrote: "Anyone else?"
The target of Tate's affection said yes, but the Advanced Placement student and two friends who helped him remain barred from the prom as of early Thursday. Smith has not returned repeated requests for comment, but NBC's "Today" show reports that Smith may make a statement later Thursday.
Tate and Rodrigues shared their saga with NBC's Matt Lauer, who said "calmer heads might prevail here" and that the punishment is excessive. The couple also appeared Wednesday on ABC's "Jimmy Kimmel Live" to discuss the growing controversy as part of a national media tour.
"I believe I already have gotten in trouble," Tate told Kimmel when asked if the matter will go on his permanent record. "I tried to mostly get my friends out of trouble and it didn't go over."
Rodrigues, who is not banned from the prom, said she has not decided if she will attend the dance without Tate.
Shelton Mayor Mark Lauretti said he's unsure that Tate's "punishment fits the crime" and told FoxNews.com on Wednesday that school officials should reconsider the decision.
"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."
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 late Wednesday, Tate said she has not heard from the school district since Tuesday, but is more optimistic that school officials would reverse their decision and let her son 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. "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. And then I did that, and this is what happened."
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.