(AP) Riverdale Kenneth M. Hoagland had heard all the stories about prom-night debauchery at his Long Island high school: Students putting down $10,000 to rent a house in the Hamptons for a weekend bash. Pre-prom cocktail parties followed by a trip to the dance in a limo loaded with liquor. Fathers chartering a boat so their kids could go out on a late-night "booze cruise."
Enough was enough, Hoagland said. So the principal of Kellenberg Memorial High School fired off a 2,000-word missive to parents at the start of the school year informing them that the Catholic school would no longer put on the spring prom.
"It is not primarily the sex/booze/drugs that surround this event, as problematic as they might be; it is rather the flaunting of affluence, assuming exaggerated expenses, a pursuit of vanity for vanity's sake -- in a word, financial decadence," Brother Hoagland said, fed up with what he calls the "bacchanalian aspects" of the prom.
"Each year it gets worse -- becomes more exaggerated, more expensive, more emotionally traumatic," he added. "We are withdrawing from the battle and allowing the parents full responsibility. (Kellenberg) is willing to sponsor a prom, but not an orgy."
The move has brought a mixed, albeit passionate, reaction from students and parents.
"I don't think it's fair, obviously, that they canceled prom," said senior Alyssa Johnson of Westbury. "There are problems with the prom, but I don't think their reasons or the actions they took solved anything."
In his letter, Hoagland cited a litany of problems that he says have developed over the years. He began a dialogue on the future of the prom last spring after it was discovered that 46 Kellenberg seniors made a $10,000 down payment on a $20,000 rental in the Hamptons for a post-prom party. When school officials found out, they forced the students to cancel the deal; the kids got their money back and the prom went on as planned.
But Hoagland said some parents went ahead and rented a Hamptons house anyway.
Amy Best, an associate professor of sociology and anthropology at George Mason University in Virginia and the author of "Prom Night: Youth, Schools and Popular Culture," said this is the first time she has heard of a school canceling the prom for such reasons.
"A lot of people have lamented the growing consumption that surrounds the prom," she said, noting it is not uncommon to see students pay $1,000 on the prom and the surrounding folderol: dresses that cost hundreds, tuxedo rentals, flowers, limousines, pre- and post-prom parties.
Best pinned some of the blame for the burgeoning costs on parents, who are often willing to open their wallets for whatever their child demands. "It is a huge misperception that the kids themselves are totally driving this."
Edward Lawson, the father of a Kellenberg senior, said he and other parents are discussing whether to organize a prom for their children without the sponsorship of the 2,500-student school, which features pristine athletic fields, immaculate hallways and the latest in audio-visual technology.
"This is my fourth child to go through Kellenberg and I don't think they have a right to judge what goes on after the prom," he said. "They put everybody in the category of drinkers and drug addicts. I don't believe that's the right thing to do."
Some parents lined up in their cars outside the school to pick up their children on a recent afternoon said they are backing Hoagland.
"The school has excellent values," said Margaret Cameron of Plainview. "We send our children here because we support the values and the administration of the school and I totally back everything they do. I trust my child with them and I trust everything, all the decisions they make for them."
Hoagland said in an interview that parents, who pay $6,025 in annual tuition, have expressed appreciation for his stern stand. "For some, it (the letter) was an eye-opener," he said. "Others feel relieved that the pressure is off of them."
Chris Laine, a senior from Rockville Centre, said the cancellation was "unfortunate, but you can't really argue with the
facts they present. ... It's just what it's evolved into. It's not what it was 20, 30 or 40 years ago. It's turned into something it wasn't originally intended to be."
He insisted, "there's never been a problem at the prom, but everything that happens after it has turned into something ... it's what an average 17 or 18 year old is doing, but it's not necessarily what they should be doing."
Besides, Laine noted, the senior class still has a four-day trip to Disney World scheduled for April.
"We go to all the parks with our friends," he said just before hopping into his jet-black Infiniti and driving off to meet friends for an after-school bite to eat. "We fly down together and stay in the same hotel and so it's not like we're totally losing everything."