MAUHS cancels 'The March' for juniors, seniors

Officials cite 'potential risk' to students

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BENNINGTON — Safety concerns have brought about a change in end-of-year celebrations for juniors and seniors at Mount Anthony Union High School.

Officials have decided to eliminate "The March" from both the junior prom and senior ball, effective starting this year.

"In recent years there has been an increase in situations which have put our students at potential risk," states a letter, dated Feb. 15, to students and families announcing the change.

The letter is signed by Stephen Nixon, principal of Mount Anthony Union High School, Jim Culkeen, superintendent of the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union and Paul Doucette, Bennington police chief.

Specifically, the "close contact" of community members to prom/ball attendees have resulted in illegal substances being passed to students, "verbal abuse" being hurled at young people and adults sneaking into the celebration, according to the letter.

The march, when students come out from the prom/ball venue and walk outside in a ceremonial procession for family and community members, has existed at MAUHS since the 1970s, said David Beriau, dean of students at MAUHS.

He elaborated on the events detailed in the letter.

In the past few years, people have come out of the crowd and stopped students at the march.

"Initially, it would be kind of innocent," he said. "Last year, we became aware that kids were handed things."

He said that beer cans — possibly one beer can — was found on the venue property that year, he said.

"It wouldn't say it was rampant by any means," he said. But just the fact that it was there gives pause. "We're trying to provide a safe way for kids to celebrate," he said.

Within the past six years, probably several years ago, one girl was also heckled by someone in the crowd, he said. And in recent years, some community members have come to the march inebriated.

"It's not just family," Beriau clarified regarding the people who come to the march. "Anybody in the community can come."

Last year, some former students came dressed up and infiltrated the event, and posted about it on Facebook, he said.

"And that's not okay," he said. "Because we screen everybody. We don't know what their motivation is. Are they in an altered state? Do they have an ax to grind?"

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Officials want the prom and senior ball to be safe and happy events, he said.

And in this age, "we don't want anything that's not foolproof, safety-wise," he said.

"Nobody ever harmed anybody, but the potential is there," he said.

Administration made the decision to cancel the march, in conjunction with local law enforcement and the central office, Beriau said.

Officials also spoke with students, Beriau said. He said he did not hear any negative reaction from them about the change.

"I talked to the senior class president, and he understood totally," Beriau said. He said other administrators haven't had any negative response from students either, as they agreed to get together if they heard anything.

One parent has called with a complaint about the change, he said.

Beriau said he doesn't know of any other school that holds the march as it's done at the senior ball and junior prom at MAUHS.

"It's not a standard thing across the country," he said.

He said students have even asked if they have to take part in the march.

"I was opposed to the march way back," he said. "The potential is beyond what we can guarantee as a safety thing."

The property owner of the prom/ball site will make the venue available prior to the start of the prom and the ball for families to come and take photos from 3-6 p.m, according to the letter.

Doucette, in an email response to a request from the Banner for more information, said, "I am going to let the letter stand for itself and not make further comment. The safety of the students is a priority for the school and the police department."

Junior prom is scheduled for May 18, 2019 from 8 p.m. to 12 a.m. The senior ball is scheduled for June 1, 2019 from 8 p.m. to 12 a.m.

The prom and ball will both be held at Colgate Park in Bennington.

Patricia LeBoeuf can be reached at pleboeuf@benningtonbanner.com, at @BAN_pleboeuf on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 118.


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