Background Checks for Prom Dates
It was only a matter of time, right? The Boston Herald reported yesterday that high school officials have banned a student's 19-year-old date from attending prom because the latter has a prior marijuana conviction. Apparently, school officials at Dennis-Yarmouth Regional High School in Cape Cod relied upon a state background check system designed to identify ex-cons before they serve as academic volunteers with access to students. And at least two young men, who were volunteering only for an evening of revelry with their girlfriends, got caught in the trap.
Not surprisingly, the young woman who is the subject of the Herald piece, and her mother, are ticked. They also are out about $500 for the prom dress, the limo and makeup. The ACLU, meanwhile, thinks the whole thing is illegal-- and you can just smell the coming lawsuit and request for an affirmative injunction. School officials aren't saying much. Local pols are taking sides on the issue.
But wait, it gets better. The Herald is reporting today that the principal of the school, Kenneth Jenks, now is being investigated by some entity called the Criminal History Systems Board to determine whether he has overzealously used the background checks beyond their intended purpose. And the Herald also says the school board is looking at its policy. You just can't make this stuff up, right? Just wait until the cable channels get a hold of this one. I can see the young woman and her mother now, sadly describing the dress she'll never get to wear.
The kerfluffle raises all sorts of legal issues. The student and her date arguably have first amendment rights to associate with whomever they please. The young man who was caught up in the background check arguably has a privacy right to be free from having this misdemeanor charge used against him for the rest of his life. And the school board ultimately would have to justify its use of the background checks, designed for other purposes remember, in these circumstances. If you want to perform background checks for prom dates, the argument will go, there ought to be specific authority to do so by state legislators and, even then, the whole scheme may be constitutional suspect.
In my day, and I suspect in yours, you didn't have to register your prom date. You could bring a friend, an ex-con, a former dictator of a third-world country, anyone. Meanwhile, in Cape Cod, I wonder how many drug testers they'll have near the punch.
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