Prom: The Four “Ds” of Prom Protocol: Dates, Dress, Decorum, Drug (Testing) (April 2017 School Leader Update)
Dates. Iowa’s civil rights law extends protection to students on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in the classroom as well as in all activities offered by a school, both public and nonpublic. This includes prom (and all school dances). Therefore, same sex couples may attend prom as a couple if they are otherwise eligible to attend prom. However, a school may limit prom attendees to current students of the school or recent graduates of the school. Here are a few examples for illustration:
- Sheldon and Leonard are students at Pasadena High School. Neither is known to be gay; both have reputations as class clowns. They announce that they plan to attend prom as a couple. Because the protection afforded to gay, lesbian, and bisexual students applies to perceived sexual orientation, school officials cannot ask Sheldon and Leonard if they are gay or bisexual. They get to attend prom as a couple.
- Pasadena High School has a policy that only students currently enrolled in Pasadena, as well as Pasadena graduates (if they are the guest of a current student) may attend prom. Penny is a current student of Pasadena. She may bring as her date any of her classmates or any graduate of Pasadena High School. But if Penny has a relationship with a girl or boy at Warner Brothers High School, Penny must decide whether to forego her prom, attend stag, or ask another Pasadena student to go with her.
- One of Penny’s classmates at Pasadena High School is Bernadette. Bernadette is class president, star athlete, 4.0 student, and top blood donor. Bernadette dates Howard, who is a student at Warner Brothers, and is the top scholar and athlete and all-around best person in the world at his school. The Pasadena administrators decide to overlook the Pasadena policy (only Pasadena students may attend Pasadena’s prom) and allow Bernadette to bring Howard. Having made an exception for Bernadette and Howard, the Pasadena administrators must make an exception for Penny and all other Pasadena students.
Dress: While a school cannot insist that students wear traditionally female or male attire (i.e., girls do not have to wear dresses and boys do not have to wear tuxedoes), schools may lawfully have a dress code if enforced even-handedly. The types of rules that will be allowable include such rules as “no exposed navels, no exposed nipples, no exposed um…derrieres, no clothes with obscenities printed on them.” In other words, the usual regulations are acceptable. But a boy may wear a dress to prom if the dress would be acceptable on a girl, and a girl may wear acceptable “male” prom-wear. What a kid wears does not have to be related to sexual orientation or gender identity.
Decorum: The key here is evenhandedness. Whatever reasonable rules of conduct and decorum a school has must be enforced evenly and consistently. If PDAs (public displays of affection) are not tolerated, then make sure that staff breaks up the kissing between straight couples as well as same sex couples.
Drug testing: Drug testing is regulated by the Iowa Student Search and Seizure Law, Iowa Code chapter 808A – see below. If a student shows up to prom and has obvious signs of being under the influence of either alcohol or drugs then school officials may breathalyze or drug test a student. Absent obvious signs and absent suspicion you cannot conduct random, suspicionless (without an articulable reason) drug testing as a condition of admission to prom. School officials that violate will not be protected in a lawsuit.