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Lawmakers Press Ahead With Bill to Allow Connecticut Teen to Attend Prom

 

Two state lawmakers -- and more than 170,000 people on social networking sites -- have lined up to support a Connecticut teen who remains banned from his senior prom following Thursday's announcement that the decision to keep him out will not be reversed.

Along with two accomplices, James Tate, an 18-year-old senior Shelton High School in Shelton, Conn., was given a one-day suspension and is barred from the school's prom on June 4 for asking classmate 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 the prom with me? HMU -Tate." HMU means hit me up, or call me.

That punishment, doled out by Shelton High School Headmaster Beth Smith, was widely criticized by Mayor Mark Lauretti, NFL quarterback Dan Orlovsky and others as being unduly harsh. 

About 90 students at the school attempted a brief sit-in on Friday to support Tate, but most returned to class when ordered, the Associated Press reports. A handful who refused were sent home for the day, while others said they planned to rally later Friday.

Online support of Tate also continues to grow rapidly, as a Facebook page called "Let James Tate Go to the Prom" has eclipsed more than 173,000 "likes." The page encourages visitors to directly contact school officials -- a phone number and link to the school's site are provided -- in an effort to have the decision reversed.

"Honestly the punishment does not fit the 'crime' if you can call it a crime," one posting read. "The Headmaster rushed to punish instead of just having him dismantle the sign and now she is stuck between a rock and a hard place. James seems like a nice kid who was trying to make something special for Sonali."

But Smith read a statement Thursday afternoon saying that she's standing by her earlier 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."

Prior to Smith's announcement, state Reps. Jason Perillo, R-Shelton, and Sean Williams, R-Waterbury, announced they would introduce an amendment, House Bill 6499, that would force schools to provide an alternate means of punishment rather than banning students from school related activities.

"I think most reasonable people would agree that this is a very poor and unfair decision by the school administration," Perillo said in a statement. "While it can certainly be argued that this measure I am introducing is an overreach of state government, I would say that the overreaching in discipline by this school administration has warranted it. While some punishment is in order, this is excessive. "

Per the amendment, when a local or regional board of education intends to ban a student from attending any school-sponsored event that occurs within 30 school days prior to the final school session of the school year due to the student’s violation of a policy of the school district, the student's parents must be provided an alternative option for punishment such as community service or a cleanup detail. Acts of violence or property damage would not be included.

"James Tate appears to be a great student and a good kid," Perillo's statement continued. "He chose a somewhat dramatic way to ask his date to the prom. That seems to have been his biggest offense. The punishment he received is grossly disproportionate to any offense, and I want to help get him and his date to the prom."

Some online posts also referred to the possibility of organizing an alternative prom for Tate, who has said that was a "novel idea." But he will not attend, according to the Connecticut Post.

Smith, who did not take questions from the media following her announcement on Thursday, has not responded to several requests for comment. She told reporters that the incident posed a safety risk and amounted to trespassing on school property.

Smith also added that students were given plenty of advance warning, that no exceptions would be made to long-established rules that students involved in disciplinary matters after April 1 would be banned from the June 4 dance.

Lauretti 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 told FoxNews.com. "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."

Meanwhile, Orlovsky, the pride of Shelton High School knows exactly what Tate is going through. Orlovsky, who graduated from the school in 2001 and now plays for the Houston Texans, also missed his last dance as a senior at the school after he was suspended for faking an illness to play basketball. Looking back now, Orlovsky wishes had gone to his prom -- and hopes school administrators will now reconsider their decision.

"Yeah, I think it's ridiculously harsh," Orlovsky told FoxNews.com. "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 being a senior in high school.  It's kind of comical."

Orlovsky 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."

Tate, meanwhile, said he "expected" Smith's refusal to reverse her decision.

"I feel like at this point the school had nothing to gain from giving in, but I'm disappointed," he told the Connecticut Post.

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