SHELBY, N.C. – For many students prom is a pivotal high school memory, but for Isabella Killough plans to celebrate a final time among her friends was not permitted.
A senior at Burns High School in Lawndale, North Carolina, Killough was not allowed to attend prom on May 1 because she is a remote learner.
“I was very discouraged because after a crazy school year, it was something to look forward to,” Killough said. “When you realize you can’t participate in a normal thing, it’s really sad.”
Emails were sent to students saying remote learners would be excluded from extracurricular activities, yet none used the word “prom.”
Still, Greg Shull, director of communications for the Cleveland County school district, said the school has been transparent all along.
“That communication was well on the front side of the school year,” Shull said. “They decided if you are a remote learner and you wanted to be in any extracurricular activities, you have to be on campus.”
The same conflict has been echoed in school districts across the country where remote learners have been excluded from proms as part of policies restricting extracurricular activities to only in-person students.
In some Connecticut and Texas high schools, parents and students have complained about similar policies taking away yet another milestone for high school students whose school years have been marred by the effects of the pandemic. In Omaha, Nebraska, a GoFundMe was set up to fund a socially-distanced prom for remote learners after their high school restricted its prom to only in-person students.
“They attend school just like in-person students,” according to the GoFundMe page. “Therefore, they shouldn’t be punished for learning online.”
One Iowa school district backtracked its decision not to allow virtual students to attend prom after parents voiced concerns, WOI reported.
Killough’s mom Jane Lamb, said she met with Rodney Borders, executive director of administrative services, to discuss the issue, pointing out the term “prom” was omitted from what they deemed to be school activities outside the classroom.
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“When we went to the school district’s office, I mentioned nothing documentation wise defined after school activities,” Lamb said. “It was never in black and white. I don’t consider prom an after-school activity.”
But Shull said in an email that prom is in fact considered an extracurricular activity.
“This term is frequently used within the school community and refers to all activities surrounding a school that is in addition to the normal course of study,” Shull said.
Shull said prom space was limited as the event center had COVID-19 protocols in place.
“When plans are made for anything, especially for an event, we had to find facilities, for the number of people matter in how you do things,” Shull said.
Still, Killough and Lamb say school officials at Burns excluded remote learners and offered the prom as an incentive for students who chose in person learning.
“I think it was wrong for them to exclude online students,” said Killough. “Even in the email they sent out, the tone they used embarrassed online students. They specifically said online students weren’t allowed to go even if they were invited.”
Killough and her boyfriend Tyler Alewine responded by creating their own prom. They ate Italian food before joining several friends on a yacht.