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Prom dates must pass inspection at Hillsborough schools

TAMPA — It's prom season. Got your dress, tickets, corsage? Got your date's criminal background check?

If not, you may wind up going solo.

Most students in Hillsborough County are required to fill out a form with their date's name, address and phone number when purchasing a ticket to the big bash, if the date does not attend their school.

Some schools have gone further, requesting photocopies of student IDs, drivers' licenses and — in one case — the date's Social Security number.

The practice is universal in Hillsborough, said school district spokeswoman Linda Cobbe, although she is unsure of how long the schools have been enforcing it.

"We have to know who's coming to these things," Cobbe said. "Our first priority is the safety of all our students."

Freedom High School, which holds its prom tonight, required students to provide the date's Social Security number along with other identifying information when tickets were sold.

"We just started with the Social Security numbers this year," said assistant principal Kelly King. "… We basically ask for them so that we have them in the event we need them later."

The school checks guests for felonies and outstanding warrants in Hillsborough County, although the Social Security numbers are not a part of that research, King said.

Michele Innocenti, the parent of a Freedom freshman, said she doesn't mind the practice as long as the school informs parents well in advance and does not perform FBI-style background checks.

"In these days and times, I think it's necessary," she said. "Sometimes I want to do it for the teachers."

If the date attends another Hillsborough County school, King said, officials can also check to see if that student has any discipline issues there.

"It's all about protecting our students at Freedom and their guests," King said. "It's not about anything else."

Principal David Brown of Leto High School agrees.

He requires that along with the application, the student bring a photocopy of a driver's license or ID card for dates who don't attend Leto. At Leto, they're not concerned only about felonies.

"We have an age limit set at 22 for all nonstudents attending the prom," he said. "It's for safety, and it's also to make sure everyone is comfortable because nobody wants to see a 30-year-old guy showing up, even if he is someone's date."

Brown's age rule does have exceptions, such as relatives home on leave from the military.

But at Leto's prom May 10, anyone who isn't on the list will not get through the door.

"You can't decide at the last minute to switch your date — even though we know that these things happen sometimes — because that person will not be admitted, and we don't sell tickets at the door," Brown said.

Similar restrictions hold for the Sickles High School homecoming dance, which every student can attend with a guest. But for prom, it's a little more streamlined.

Teacher Mindy Swary, the senior class adviser at Sickles, said she collected the names and contact information for the outside students attending the prom and will check IDs against a list at the door.

A representative from Gaither High, which just started requiring ID forms last year, said the prom March 29 went off without a hitch.

"The students had at least a month to turn the form in," said Sharon Rodd of student affairs. "I don't recall hearing of any problems at the event."

The school also got no complaints from Gaither senior Phillip Ackart, who brought a church friend from Sickles to the homecoming dance in the fall.

"She had to fill out a form and both our parents had to sign it," he said. "It was a bit of a hassle, but I didn't mind it."

Ackart took a classmate to the prom. He doesn't know if the security policy played a part but, he said, "hardly anyone brought someone who didn't go there."

Robbyn Mitchell can be reached at (813) 269-5313 or rmitchell@sptimes.com.

Prom dates must pass inspection at Hillsborough schools 05/01/08 [Last modified: Monday, May 5, 2008 2:57pm]
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