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Teen’s prom ban reversed amid outcry

James Tate's romantic prom proposal won't keep him from going after all. Shelton, Conn., school officials Saturday announced the reversal of Tate's prom ban.
/ Source: staff and news service reports

James Tate's romantic prom proposal won't keep him from going after all.

Shelton, Conn., school officials called a surprise news conference Saturday to announce that the decision to ban Tate from his senior prom had been reversed, according to WVIT.

They acknowledged the "international notoriety" the case had brought.

Tate had been suspended and subsequently banned from the prom because of the way he asked his classmate Sonali Rodrigues to be his date, the station's website reported.

The Shelton High School senior and two of his friends snuck onto school grounds late at night last week to post 12-inch-tall letters to a wall outside of the school's entrance. The message read: "Sonali Rodrigues, Will you go to the prom with me? HMU -Tate." HMU is short for hit me up, or call me.

Rodrigues said yes, but then, to Tate's surprise, school officials said no: Tate and his two friends were handed one-day, in-house suspensions by the headmaster. School policy is to ban from the prom any student suspended after April 1.

Shelton High headmaster Beth Smith had been standing firm all week in her decision to ban Tate, which went according to school rules, despite the media buzz and outcry that spread across the country.

Nearly 200,000 people came out in support of Tate on Facebook and Twitter, saying the school punishment was too harsh.

Smith, the headmaster, had said Thursday the practice of banning students who were suspended after April 1 has been standard for "many years."

On Saturday, Smith issued a statement saying she never thought her decision to ban Tate from the prom "would lead to international notoriety, as I make tough, unpopular decisions on a daily basis."

She said changing the policy to allow alternate consequences on a case-by-case basis would allow some students, beginning with Tate, to attend the prom.

"This decision will allow Shelton High School to focus our classroom discussions on established curriculum and continue to encourage students to develop to their full potential," she said.

She cited a "much more exciting opportunity when our students make history, as a science experiment completed by SHS students is currently on the space shuttle Endeavour," scheduled for launch Monday.

Smith, staff members, students involved in the experiment and parents went to see Endeavour's originally scheduled launch two weeks ago in Florida, she said.

Earlier, Tate told TODAY's Matt Lauer he was shocked at the punishment.

"I thought they would appreciate my sincerity and creativity," Tate said on TODAY. "I thought maybe a reprimand — clean it up — which I was willing to do, and I ended up doing on Sunday night, but instead, there's an investigation."

Tate told The Connecticut Post that he was told posting the message constituted trespassing and posed a safety risk.

Rodrigues, also interviewed on TODAY, told Lauer that she appreciated Tate's gesture.

Vote: Should teen be banned from prom for big sign?

"I thought it was really sweet. I never thought he would get in trouble, so when he actually told me he was suspended, I thought he was joking."

As news of the ban spread, so too did the outrage. Tate's posting on his school's wall has led to hundreds of posts on a different type of wall. Friends have set up a Facebook page urging school officials to reconsider, where thousands are appealing on his behalf. On Twitter, streams of users are unfurling their 140 character messages of support using the hashtag #teamtate.

Public officials spoke out.

Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy weighed in. "While it seems that there are rules that were broken, in this case, it doesn’t seem as though the punishment fits the crime," he said in a statement.

And Republican State Legislator Jason Perillo also took Tate's side. He had been drafting legislation that would let the senior go to prom, letting students suspended late in the year perform community service instead of missing the big dance.