Losing the race against time

To ensure students are supervised, some schools enforce deadlines to get into dances, which leaves latecomers outside and out of luck

April 29, 2006|By LIZ F. KAY | LIZ F. KAY,SUN REPORTER

For Brittany Benson, the trip to the ball ended not at midnight but when the clock struck 8:30 p.m.

At that moment, the dance was over for the 17-year-old Kenwood High School student - before it had even begun.

Like some other schools in the area, Kenwood limits the time that students can get into a dance. When Benson arrived minutes after the advertised cut-off for her junior prom on a recent Friday night, she and her boyfriend were turned away.

The rule is meant to discourage students from drinking or engaging in other misconduct before a dance, and school administrators say it works. But Benson says she wasn't misbehaving or even trying to be fashionably late - she had to repair a broken zipper on her floor-length, white satin dress.

"It was an emergency," she said.

Her mother, Annette Benson, said the circumstances called for an exception.

"To her, that night meant everything," she said. Later, she added: "You're taking a lot of memories away from these kids, for a few minutes."

A survey of Baltimore-area school systems shows that some schools choose to shut the doors to dances at a set, advertised time. Some form of the rule is in place at at least two high schools in Baltimore County, at least two more in Harford County and at all high schools in Howard County, according to school officials.

"We want to ensure, first of all, [that] students are supervised during the time their parents think they are," said David A. Bruzga, now a secondary school administrator after 17 years as a high school principal. He said it also discourages the "partying atmosphere prior to coming to dances."

But the rules don't thwart all incidents. In February, five students were ejected from a dance at Ellicott City's Mount Hebron High School for drinking alcohol.

That night, one Mount Hebron student died and two others were injured in a car accident. A family member of one of the injured students told The Sun shortly after the accident that the teenagers were trying to make it to the dance before the 9 p.m. cutoff. Police are continuing their investigation.

Benson's mother said her child should have been allowed into the Kenwood prom. Kenwood Principal Paul D. Martin said the girl's situation was unfortunate, but schools have beefed up security measures for dances in recent years, and rules must be enforced to maintain order.

"As a school, we're trying to do everything possible to make things fun and happy and safe for the kids," he said.

Martin said that in the past, students have called the school, the location of the dance or even another student's cell phone to get in touch with someone who can authorize a late arrival.

"There are exceptions, but you have to let us know ahead of time if there's a problem," he said.

Bruzga said some students let an administrator know if they had a good reason to arrive late - an athletic event, for example. In Harford County, principals at two schools have cell phones that students can call to let someone know when a car breaks down or something else happens, according to Harford County schools spokesman Don Morrison.

Benson said she began preparing for the April 21 dance as soon as she learned the date it would be held. She bought her shoes more than a month ago, had her hair braided the weekend before, and got a manicure and a pedicure the day before.

Benson, who works as a dietary aide for an elder care facility and at a shoe store at White Marsh Mall, said she paid for most of the items. The total, including tickets, the dress with beaded straps and accessories, came to about $500. Her mother said she and her husband also helped their daughter pay for some things.

Benson and her date made their prom picture appointment at Kenwood High at 5:30 p.m. They then went to her boyfriend's grandparents' house in Turners Station and came back to her house to model for their families.

Just before 8 p.m., the couple got in Benson's father's Chrysler 300C to leave for the dance at Martin's East - about a five-minute drive from her Middle River home. But before they left the driveway, she felt the zipper burst open.

"Time was a problem," her mother said. "I just sewed the dress up with her in it."

Many swift stitches later, the couple was on the road to Martin's East, but not soon enough. A flier with details about the dance states that students could enter the prom between 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m., no exceptions.

Benson's father, Rickey, and her mother tried to vouch for their daughter, but to no avail. Benson and her boyfriend, Nicholas Terry, later joined a few friends for a late dinner.

People have tried to comfort Benson, telling her that she can go to next year's dance. She said she plans to arrive at her senior prom "really, really early."

liz.kay@baltsun.com

Sun reporter Justin Fenton contributed to this article.

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