The boy who was banned from the prom is the new social media darling.
In less than 24 hours, the Facebook group “Let James Tate Go to the Prom” ballooned from a modest 400 members to a staggering 37,000-plus, while on Twitter, #TeamTate and #JamesTate have become national trending topics.
Tate, a senior at Shelton High School, after a creative date proposal was deemed a violation of school rules by the administration.
But if Headmaster Dr. Beth Smith thought the incident would end there, she was mistaken. The story has gone viral, with people across the nation and even Scotland showing their support for Tate.
Locally, the campaign to reinstate is the talk of the town. At the high school, a group of students printed flyers that read “SEND TATE TO PROM” and handed them out in the hallways. Junior Nick Hearl taped one to his shirt and wore it to class because he said he feels the punishment is “ridiculous.”
Hearl said that school on Wednesday was “chaotic, but everyone is keeping cool waiting to see where it goes from here.”
He also said that teachers have not said anything about the incident that he knows of. When asked if he felt the administration was keeping tight-lipped in an attempt to keep students in check and quiet the buzz, he answered: “Probably.”
That sentiment was echoed by all of the students Patch interviewed. Of the at least 12 high-schoolers interviewed, not one had heard a word from their headmaster or teachers.
Superintendent of public schools Freeman Burr did send out a press release to the media Wednesday afternoon. It read: “In response to your recent inquiry, I am aware of the local, state and national media attention surrounding the situation and I have no further comments regarding the matter at this time.”
Smith could not be reached for comment. Receptionists at the high school’s main office said her voicemail inbox is currently filled, but they have no idea whether she has returned any of those calls.
John Rougeou from Alexandria, LA was one of thousands of readers who called the school to voice support for Tate.
“I called the superintendent’s office and they told me that they had gotten 18,000 phone calls from people,” Rougeou said. “I’m a former schoolteacher and I just wanted to tell them that this is stupid stuff. I appreciate what Patch and the media is doing for this young man.”
Students say the only response they’ve seen from administrators is punishment for anyone who tweets about Tate, the prom proposal and Dr. Smith.
“She’s going on Twitter and looking at all our stuff and printing it out and getting us in trouble,” said sophomore Toni Bartomeli. “Everyone’s getting in trouble for tweeting that Team Tate thing, the trend."
“Apparently teachers are making Twitters and following us on Twitter and, like, following what we’re saying. And someone got suspended for saying something about Dr. Smith on Facebook,” added fellow sophomore Brianna Slavin.
Of course, SHS has been no stranger to drama this past school year. A string of in October and November 2010 resulted in class disruptions on at least four different occasions. Many are arguing that Tate’s actions pale in comparison to these incidents.
“Look at all the bomb scares that happened! Those are the kids that deserve punishment,” said Kyle Ebdon, who graduated from SHS in 2007. “From what we know this is a good kid with no past problems.”
On Facebook, Kerry Rivelli posted the following message: “schools have kids that bring guns to school, start fights, post horrible and damaging things on the internet about each other, and this guy...decides to be a hopeless romantic, and gets punished!! Sorry the schoolmaster is wrong on this one. Suspension yes, no prom, not warranted.”
Tate himself said he has not heard any more from Smith since this past Friday afternoon, when she handed down her sentence. And though hundreds of thousands are rallying in his favor, he says he doesn’t think a decision reversal “would mean much.”
Be sure to return to Shelton Patch tomorrow morning for an exclusive video interview with James Tate.