The Clash Between Safety and Freedom of Association in the Regulation of Prom Dates
26 Pages Posted: 25 Sep 2009 Last revised: 29 Sep 2009
Date Written: September 25, 2009
The prom is an essential rite of passage for millions of high school students. Many consider it to be one of the most exciting and significant nights of their lives. For most students, the decision of whom to bring to the prom is one of significant importance. Today, however, high schools across America are conducting informal and even criminal background checks on potential prom dates and implementing regulations that restrict students’ prom date choices. In many instances, students are prohibited from bringing dates who are of a certain age or sex, or who have unsatisfactory criminal or disciplinary records. These regulations are often overly broad and unnecessary, severely infringing upon students’ constitutional right of association. High school is the time when teenagers transform into young adults. Yet, precisely when many young adults are defining their self-identity, schools are unduly withholding the opportunity to make an important, expressive, and very personal choice: with whom to undertake this rite of passage.
This Article explores the First Amendment right to form personal associations and its status within the context of prom date selections. It argues that regulations restricting this choice must be adequately tailored so as to protect the associational rights of students. Finally, it proposes a system through which schools can maintain safety at the prom without unnecessarily infringing upon the First Amendment rights of students.
The issue explored is both timely and important, yet remains almost completely ignored in legal scholarship. The regulation of prom dates is becoming an increasingly controversial topic in many areas of the country, and litigation in response to these regulations continues to be threatened. It is increasingly apparent that courts will have to address this topic in the near future and, consequently, the broader issues regarding the associational rights of students within the school context.
Keywords: prom, children, first amendment, association, students
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