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Jun 6, 2017 10:40 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

UPDATE: Southampton School Officials Change Prom Policy Following Requests From Community

Jun 6, 2017 2:40 PM

UPDATE: Monday, 1:45 p.m.

At about 1:15 p.m. on Monday, Mr. Zahn and Assistant Principal Susan Wright emailed parents of junior and senior students detailing the following updated prom policy: "Based on requests received from some members of our student body, we would like to share an update on guest eligibility for our upcoming Junior Senior Prom. Effective today, we will be accepting requests for SHS students to attend with all guests under the age of 21, not just those enrolled in a high school program."

Potential attendees must sign a guest form and then meet with Mr. Zahn, who will then approve or deny the request. The email was sent out about 15 minutes after the original article was published on 27east.com, although school officials did not mention the article in their email.


By all accounts, Brian Poerio, 17, of East Quogue, is an upstanding young adult.

In order to expedite his dream of working for NASA or a big aerospace company like SpaceX as an aerospace engineer, he opted to graduate Bishop McGann-Mercy Diocesan High School a year early and is now enrolled in Suffolk County Community College. As a cadet in the Civil Air Patrol’s 9th Suffolk Cadet Squadron—where he served as cadet commander—Brian logged more than 500 hours of community service. And in May of 2016, Southampton Mayor Mark Epley presented Brian with the Veteran of Foreign Wars Noncommissioned Officer Medal for Character and Merit.

While those decisions were sound ones for Brian’s future professional life, they are currentlyu having an adverse effect on his personal life. Brian may be forced to miss out on attending the prom with his girlfriend, Southampton High School senior Barbara Pace, because of the school district’s prom policy, which works on a schooling ceiling rather than an age ceiling, barring individuals not currently enrolled in high school from attending the prom. It is a strange and upsetting reality for Brian and Barbara, who is six months older than her boyfriend of two years. Barbara's mother, Donna Pace, opposes the policy.

“He doesn’t go to after-parties; he doesn’t go to any parties unless it’s just a family party,” Ms. Pace said. “He’s like an 80-year-old man in a 17-year-old’s body. He’s truly a really, really good kid.”

“That’s something that has been in place for a really long time. I don’t know who instituted those rules, but those are the rules and that’s what [the district is] following,” Deirdre Gilligan, vice president of Syntax Communication Group, a public relations company in Bohemia that works for the district, said. “[The district] is not offering any further comment other than what the rules are, those are the rules and the district has to stand by the rules.”

Theoretically, if a student was under the age of 18 and dropped out of high school, they would not be permitted to attend prom either, Ms. Gilligan said.

Ms. Pace said that this policy has not been made clear enough to parents and students.

“They say the age limit is 21; anyone under 21 is okay,” she said. “But then in the second breath [Mr. Zahn] is saying, ‘well because [Brian] graduated high school he cannot attend.’”

Brian, who attended last year’s Southampton prom as a senior in high school, contacted Mr. Zahn in order to ask what, if any, recourse to attendance is available. Mr. Zahn told Brian that college students pose a safety concern and that Brian may appeal to Superintendent Dr. Nicholas Dyno, but that ultimately, the decision was Mr. Zahn's to make.

“I told him that I’m not a safety concern,” Brian said. ”I told him that the mayor of Southampton gave me a medal. I’ve gotten an award from the Air Force for leadership.”

Mr. Zahn also told Brian that he may supply letters attesting to his character, and Brian has collected four. But he is not confident an exception will be made.

“It sounded to me that he was just kind of saying that to get me off the phone,” Brian said.

On June 4, Brian and Barbara celebrated two years as a couple, and they said the senior prom serves as their last hurrah before Barbara departs to Florida to attend the University of Tampa this fall.

“She said that she feels that it’s ruining her senior year,” Brian said of his exclusion from the prom.

“And now she has to go to prom and her friends that she will be going with will have dates and she’ll be going by herself,” Ms. Pace added.

Parents must drop off and pick up their children and respective dates from prom, a policy Ms. Pace commends. But she feels that policy is sufficient in curbing any threat college-aged attendees may pose.

“You’re not sending them in limos by themselves where there’s a possibility that 18- or 19-year-olds, or in his case 17-year-olds, are bringing in any kind of alcohol or drugs, any more than what your seniors can possibly be doing themselves,” she said.

Ms. Pace also take issues with a policy that allows underclassmen to attend.

“You’re allowing them the okay to bring a 14- or 15-year-old freshman to the prom. To me, that is more inappropriate because they are too young,” she said. “They really don’t belong at that age I feel. I would not allow my 14-year-old to go to prom if she was asked by a senior or junior.”

Prom policies differ slightly in each district. With a student body of just more than 600 students, Southampton High School hosts one prom for both juniors and seniors.

Westhampton Beach High School hosts two independent proms for juniors and seniors. Individuals not enrolled in Westhampton Beach are prohibited from attending junior prom, while individuals under the age of 21 are allowed at senior prom. Individuals over the age of 21 may also attend, but they must first meet with the school's principal, Christopher Herr.

Ms. Pace says she is aware of at least one other student asking for an exception to be allowed at the prom.

“I understand that there are a small number of parents upset with our prom practices, but our prom committee, along with school leaders, will continue to ensure that we provide the very best high school prom experience for our students,” Mr. Zahn said in an email.

Mr. Zahn and Dr. Dyno could not be reached for further comment on the manner and deferred to Ms. Gilligan, who was not able to speak on whether or not the district has struggled with the smuggling of alcohol and drugs into prom in the past.

For now, Brian awaits to see if his appeal will be approved.

“I find it very hard that [Mr. Zahn] is going accept it, I really do,” Ms. Pace said. “I feel as if he is being punished for being a smart kid.”

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If the guy was in the military, he understands rules. Let it go.
By SlimeAlive (1181), Southampton on Jun 6, 17 1:19 PM
1 member liked this comment
What ever happened to common sense? This is High School for crying out loud, not the military!!!!
By Taz (695), East Quogue on Jun 6, 17 1:27 PM
Maybe Southampton High School should use these kind of Rules to keep Drugs out of the School, rather than good kids out of Prom.
By mychildmatters (70), SOUTHAMPTON on Jun 6, 17 1:29 PM
Everyone wants to bend the rules these days. The rule is the rule. You can't get everything in life and unfortunately kids these days don't know how to handle that reality.
If it ruins her entire senior year as noted above - she is in for a rude awakening in life.

By dexter831 (6), dexter831 on Jun 6, 17 2:15 PM
I love the military, and they love me back you know, but wahhhhh, arbitrary rules.

Just kidding, kinda. This really is dumb. Glad the school realized how stupid it made them look.
By Brandon Quinn (191), Hampton Bays on Jun 6, 17 2:29 PM
Common sense prevails!!!!!
By Taz (695), East Quogue on Jun 6, 17 3:07 PM
The next step is the district will create a new position to handle these individual requests and interviews.
By gusef (53), Southampton on Jun 6, 17 4:34 PM
1 member liked this comment
If they don't use school district resources do they need care abput the policiy?
By Duckbornandraised (184), Eastport on Jun 6, 17 6:31 PM
1 member liked this comment
Wait, the Southampton School district is paying a PR company based in Bohemia? To explain this mess? Since when to public schools hire private public relations companies to explain themselves, with taxpayer money? This is extremely peculiar.

Let the young man attend the prom with his girlfriend, it's ridiculous that such a fuss has been made and that SHS is hiring an outside PR company. Boggling. I hope the young people have fun with their prom. Grown-ups can be ridiculous.
By Hampton Bays (14), hampton bays on Jun 7, 17 10:12 AM
......“That’s something that has been in place for a really long time. I don’t know who instituted those rules, but those are the rules and that’s what [the district is] following,” Deirdre Gilligan, vice president of Syntax Communication Group, a public relations company in Bohemia that works for the district, said.

By Shinnecock Hills family (59), Southampton on Jun 8, 17 3:03 PM
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