HS prom event theme causes backlash among parents: ‘totally unacceptable’

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CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — Some Chesterfield County Public Schools parents are raising concerns over a prom-like event planned at Midlothian High School.

Some parents told 8News that the ‘promenade’ walk-through planned for Saturday evening, is ‘culturally insensitive.’

“There are NO pandemic travel restrictions at the PROMenade! Visit Hollywood, Mexico, Kenya, Italy and Paris for delicious themed treats, gift cards, and giveaways (not to mention more great photo ops!)”

Midlothian High School Parent Teacher and Student Organization

According to an online sign-up sheet for the ‘Around the World’ theme, the high school’s parent, teacher and student organization asked for several decorations. Among them are items like animal masks, baskets, rain sticks and drums. The items are intended to represent Kenya.

For Hawaii, Midlothian High School PTSO members asked for tiki torches. For Mexico, members asked for maracas.

The items are causing alarm for some CCPS parents. Tavorise Marks has a student that attends a school within the district and was shocked to hear about the theme. He has also served on the Chesterfield County NAACP chapter for 5 years from 2015-2020.

Marks told 8News, he received several phone calls from disturbed parents.

“Some were disgusted. Some were very concerned, and some wanted to seek some type of assistance in helping the school as well as the county guide and navigate these waters that we always seem to find ourselves back into,” said Marks.

In a letter written to Midlothian High School’s Principal Shawn Abel and School Board members, Chesterfield NAACP Education Committee Chair Carrie Kahwajy explained her concerns.

“It is my understanding that my previous concerns were not addressed and met with defensive statements/ excuses that parents are “well-meaning.”  The tone deaf nature of the prom and requests for decorations like “face masks” from Kenya and “maracas” from Mexico is totally unacceptable.  It was brought to my attention a parent replied to the request for providing Mexican paper fans with “from Spain but could be from Mexico.” Instead of taking the opportunity to make this a teachable moment, our Principal sent out a request for drop offs through our school listserv this morning.”

According to the Midlothian High School PTSO’s Facebook page, students were asked to sign up for a time slot in order to walk across a ‘blue carpet.’

Marks believes there needs to be more diversity and inclusion training within Chesterfield County Public Schools and that there should be people of color also involved in these types of decisions.

“To ensure that every culture here in the county is appropriately celebrated and appreciated and not appropriated and disrespected,” said Marks.

According to Kahwajy, Principal Abel sent out an email response to those who wrote to him about the Midlothian prom.

“Please know that there was no intent on part of the group organizing this function to create any negative impact for any students attending this function and they have worked to change the initial plans,” said Abel.

A reminder message was sent to seniors attending the event on May 1. According to Abel, students and staff worked up to the last minute to make adjustments in “order to have a safe and appropriate experience for all.”

“As we continued to hear from the community about how our picture stations and decorations may have been perceived, we have adjusted our stations in an attempt to be both respectful to all people attending while offering the intended snapshot of a big evening out.”

Midlothian High School Principal Shawn Abel

In the reminder message, Principal Abel wrote to students that the administration will be meeting with them next week to “continue our work on how to improve planning and communication processes, with part of the solution being a broader representation of the student population.”

8News has reached out to Chesterfield County Public Schools for a comment.

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