Despite the recent snowstorm, there is a definite feeling in the air that spring is around the corner. The high school has started a collective march toward the end of a school year, marked by senior acceptances to college or gap year programs, the course selection process for current juniors, sophomores, and freshman, MCAS testing, and planning for many extra curricular activities. The spring athletic season begins shortly, rehearsals for the spring musical are underway, and planning for the Sophomore cruise, the proms, and graduation have begun in earnest. I know teachers and administrators look forward to interacting with students in these non-academic settings.
As the year winds down, we will continue to carefully plan these events to promote socialization and fun in a safe environment, and this leads me to the focus for this newsletter: to provide you with information about the past and current conversations the high school has engaged in regarding school dances. When I refer to ‘school dances’ I am not referencing the junior and senior proms, I am talking about the extra curricular dances that various clubs, activities, or class councils hold as a way to bring students together and/or to raise money. Over the years, the popularity of school dances has dwindled, with attendance at dances ranging from 100 to 125 students per event (a few dances, but not many, have more students present). Over time, the sponsoring group for each dance has engaged in the delicate balance of needing to raise funds, wanting students to socialize at a dance, and struggling to sell tickets and to find chaperones. I would like to give a personal and public thank you to Mr. Dave Lautman for his willingness to work with students and teachers to make dances a reality. Dean Lautman is our liaison to clubs and activities, but he goes well beyond the scope of the role on behalf of students, and he never loses sight of the fact that the school has an obligation to make these events as safe as possible.
In August, the administrative team (deans, associate principal, and principal) gave careful consideration to the quality of school dances over the last two years. In addition to the direct observations of administrators on duty at dances, we considered ongoing feedback from students, class advisors and club advisors, and teachers who acted as chaperones. The picture that emerged led me to the difficult decision to put school dances on hold until January 2013. The major factors that contributed to my decision were the number of alcohol related suspensions that followed dances and the increasing number of complaints from students and adults that overtly sexual dancing made them uncomfortable and unwilling to attend dances. For several years, these combined factors made it difficult to pull together the required number of chaperones and/or to sell enough tickets for the sponsoring group to break even. Thus, we were often determining the fate of a dance at the last minute.
Shortly after my decision, the administrative team made it clear to the school that we had one goal in mind: to make the environment at school dances safer for the students and adults involved. We also made it clear that no particular dance or incident led me to a decision that would knowingly impact fund raising for clubs and activities. In fact, there was consensus on the administrative team that we needed to put safety before fund raising, and we agreed to work with students to find alternative means for raising money. We were also aware that several sponsoring groups had organized ‘incident free’ dances for long periods of time, but we believed it would be detrimental to the culture of the school to single out specific organizations for a dance hiatus while allowing others to hold dances. Most importantly, we had great faith in our ability to work together as a school to establish a set of protocols that would support the emotional and physical safety of all members in the community.
I am happy to report that the process we put in place to problem solve met the January timeline and school dances are back on. It is critical for you to know that the majority of students, school personnel, and parents (consulted through School Council and the PTSA) agreed on the following: (1) dances had not been a safe environment for many people at our school, and (2) dances needed to be a safe environment for students and adults. I am extremely proud of the group of adults and students who came together to find possible solutions and to make recommendations to the administrative team. There were bumps along the way, particularly when a good idea could not be put into motion right away because of the size of the school (our need to communicate information in a thorough manner) or we had to meet legal obligations such as placing information in the Student Parent Handbook. Thank you to this group and to the Student Faculty Senate for their collaboration and support throughout this process.
At the conclusion of this letter you will find a brief summary of the expectations and strategies we have put in place for the remainder of the year, as well as the anticipated changes. It is my sincere hope that these improvements will bring the same level of success to dances that we experience at the junior and senior proms. (Once we required the use of school transportation and instituted a clear process for check in at the proms, the alcohol/drug related incidents declined dramatically; the formal nature of the Junior and Senior proms has sustained a culture of dancing that has never risen to a level of heightened discomfort for anyone in attendance.) As the year winds down and dances are held at the high school, we will continue to monitor the successes and to seek improvement.
I look forward to seeing your sons and daughters at the various spring events,
Expectations for Students (2013)
When a student purchases a ticket to a school dance, the student has an obligation to create and foster an environment where all students feel welcome and safe. When purchasing the ticket and attending a dance, the student is pledging to
1. participate in the dance free of alcohol and/or illicit drugs;
2. dance in an appropriate manner (no ‘grinding or overtly sexual dancing); and3. adhere to the policies listed in the Student Parent Handbook.
New Procedures for 2013
In addition to the protocols listed on pages 40-41 of the Student Parent Handbook, school dances will have:
• DJs who are not a student at the school
• A social hour before the dance begins (doors open at 7:00, doors close at 7:30, and the dance formally begins at 8:00); the organization sponsoring the dance is responsible for creating activities (socialization) during the first 30 minutes
• A 15 minute intermission (lights up, music lowered) will take place approximately half-way through the dance
Note: The Student/Faculty Senate’s Climate Committee will review the event with the organizers following the dance.
Anticipated Changes for the 2013-2014 School Year
• Students will be required to sign a pledge prior to attending a school dance
• A breathalyzer will be present at school dances
Communication for the Current and Anticipated Changes• The expectations for student behavior were made clear at class assemblies in February and March 2013
• The expectations for student behavior will be reviewed at the start of each dance for the remainder of this year
• The Dance Pledge will be introduced and reviewed with students and parents/guardians at the start of the 2013-2014 academic year
• The administrative team will work with the Superintendent of Schools to establish clearly defined procedures for the use of a breathalyzer in 2013-2014
• The 2013-2014 Student Parent Handbook will be updated to include all changes to dance procedures