School district issues apology following incident at prom

Following an incident that occurred at the Hillsborough High School senior prom on May 17, which resulted in the premature departure of multiple students with special needs from the event, the Hillsborough Township Public School District has issued an apology in regard to the matter.

The statement came several weeks after district aides who served as paid chaperones at the prom told a group of seven students with special needs to leave the event before its scheduled curfew, despite the school’s mandate that no one was to leave early.

Following criticism and public comment from parents of the students, as well as from adults in the community, the Board of Education launched an investigation into the matter.

In a statement from the district at the conclusion of the investigation, administrators reported that after the prom, a group of students with disabilities and their families communicated to district administration and the board their disappointment in those students’ experience at the event.

The statement said the board received communications about allegations that certain students with disabilities, largely those sharing a single limousine, were required to leave the senior prom early. Once this matter was brought to the superintendent of schools’ attention, he directed administrative staff members to investigate the incident.

District officials said the investigation included interviews with staff members, students, parents and third-party service providers who witnessed or were part of the interactions in question that evening, as well as a review of correspondence from the parents of various students, the Child Study Team, and the instructional assistants.

As a result of the investigation, the administration concluded that while certain parents of students with disabilities requested an early dismissal from the prom, these students were erroneously dismissed earlier than requested and contrary to their wishes to remain.

District officials said they agreed that resulted in an unacceptable scenario, leaving students and their families with the impression they could not stay until the end of the prom, which should not have happened.

“The senior prom began at 7 p.m. and ended at 11:30 p.m.,” the district said in the statement. “The earliest departure time for students who did not want to stay until the end was 11 p.m., and limousines were not permitted to arrive earlier than 11:15 p.m. to allow a staggered exit to avoid traffic jams for the many student drivers, limousines and party buses.

“Communications with some of the parents of students with special needs indicated that the limo for this group would arrive at 11 p.m. in keeping with the past practice of allowing the students with special needs to leave 15 minutes early to avoid the crush as the majority other prom-goers, most of whom choose to leave at 11 p.m., also depart. However, this group left at 10:45 p.m. and were not present for the full coronation of the king and queen or their traditional dance.

“The board and the administration sympathize with the affected students and their families,” the statement read. “During the course of the investigation, the administrators apologized in person to the students and parents with whom they met or communicated, and, as the investigation drew to a close, the principal sent a letter to all of the parents last week that reiterated this apology and the school’s staunch belief that their children deserved better, as well as offered a special activity to those students to remind them that they are valued members of the school family.”

District officials said they cannot comment on personnel matters, but the board said the administration is taking steps to ensure that this type of error will not happen again.

Although the district offered its apologies to the students and personnel involved, its officials said they plan to arrange an alternative activity to those students to remind them they are respected members of the school system.

“The board believes this regrettable occurrence, which was hurtful to those students and families, should not reflect negatively on the hundreds of teachers, aides and administrators who care deeply for the district’s special needs students, and who have done so for many, many years,” district officials said. “The board again apologizes for these students’ earlier-than-anticipated dismissal from the senior prom and sincerely hopes the remainder of the school year for these students will be filled with the positive and enriching educational and extracurricular experiences that they truly deserve.”