By JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS
After having to cancel prom last year due to the pandemic and gathering restrictions, Montclair High School students were happy to hear the prom would happen this year.
But as students began to buy their tickets for the senior prom, to be held June 22 at Westmount Country Club, they discovered that the district was limiting the event to seniors only.
For senior Bryan Thevnin that meant he couldn’t bring his girlfriend, Annika Aristimuno, a junior at MHS. The same goes for senior Emma Belsky, who can’t bring her girlfriend, junior Sophie Chapman.
Aristimuno estimated as many as 100 MHS students wouldn’t be able to bring their significant others who are either in other grades or attend other schools.
District officials have not returned an email from Montclair Local requesting information on why the prom was limited to seniors. Aristimuno’s mother, Rupal Parikh, said she and other parents believed it was because the venue was booked before Gov. Phil Murphy lifted limits on indoor gatherings.
There are no indoor limits currently in place. But beginning in mid-May and until June 4, indoor catered events such as weddings and proms were still limited to a maximum of 250 people. Before that, such events were limited to 150 people, or 35% of a room’s capacity.
The graduating class includes about 500 people.
Now students are getting a lesson in reading the fine print. Although students received daily emails about how to purchase their $90 prom tickets, no mention was made in those emails that it was a senior-only event, Aristimuno said. It wasn’t until they read the contract, which needs to be signed while purchasing the tickets, that they saw the evening would be for seniors only.
“My junior class honestly has had one of the craziest and worst of the high school experiences, stairs collapsing, COVID messing up our sophomore and entire junior year, no junior prom, and now some of us aren’t even allowed to go to senior prom with our boyfriends who are seniors,” Aristimuno wrote to Principal Jeffrey Freeman.
Because Aristimuno’s junior prom was cancelled this year and all proms were cancelled last year, this year’s senior prom would be the only one the couple, who have been dating for two years, would be able to attend before Thevnin goes off to college.
“We got excited about his senior prom and planned out everything, then we were told I wasn’t allowed to attend because I’m a junior,” Aristimuno said.
It’s also the last chance to attend a prom for Chapman and Belsky, who had been dress and suit shopping before discovering through friends that Chapman couldn’t go.
“I am very sad and upset. The prom is a big part of high school. This year would have been even better after not seeing our friends for a year. We would have been all together,” Chapman said.
Last week, Aristimuno started up a letter-writing campaign with 20 letters going out from students asking that the rule be overturned.
After not hearing back from Freeman on a resolution, Aristimuno said she went to his office on Friday, June 11, the last day to buy tickets. She had hoped that any non-purchased tickets could be offered up to the juniors who were dating seniors, but was told no, she said.
Aristimuno said she doesn’t know whether her boyfriend will go if she can’t be there, but she didn’t want him to miss out on a chance to be with his class for a final time.
Chapman said she and Belsky are planning a night out with a small group of friends to have dinner and wear their suits and dresses, but it’s not same, she said.
Parikh said: “I don’t want to raise a ruckus. These kids have been through enough. But most kids bring dates to prom and not all date kids in their own grade. They get flowers, limos, it’s a big deal.”
Parikh said she understands that when the district booked months ago, COVID played a part in limiting the number of guests, but said better communication from the district about the change in policy was warranted.
“After a really bad year, they got their hopes of up only to find out that they can’t bring a date,” Parikh said.