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Wiregrass Ranch High bars prom date, 19, as over-age

Tiffany Gall and Chris Kluender were both students when they attended the Wiregrass Ranch High School prom in 2009.

Special to the Times

Tiffany Gall and Chris Kluender were both students when they attended the Wiregrass Ranch High School prom in 2009.

WESLEY CHAPEL — When he was a sophomore, Chris Kluender went to his girlfriend Tiffany Gall's senior prom.

Two years later, they're still dating, and Kluender wants to take Gall to his May 14 prom at Renaissance Tampa International Plaza Hotel.

Only Wiregrass Ranch High School officials won't let him.

The prom is a high school dance, "not a dance for 20 or 21 year olds," principal Ray Bonti told Kluender's dad, also named Chris, in an e-mail. So while Gall might be "a delightful young lady," she's not an age-appropriate guest, Bonti wrote.

Prom guests for Wiregrass Ranch's big dance must be high school age or a 2010 high school graduate, according to school rules. Bonti did not return calls to discuss the case.

Gall, who is 19, graduated in 2009 from Wiregrass Ranch, where she served in student council and worked as a peer in the main office. Kluender is 18.

The school's decision has ticked off the elder Chris Kluender. He's so upset that he has quit as president of the Wiregrass Ranch High athletic booster club.

"He gets penalized because his girlfriend has graduated," said Mr. Kluender, who helped raise money for several sports programs. "I am resigning … because of what they are doing to my son, which I don't think is fair."

The younger Chris Kluender — who has been captain of the school baseball and golf teams, as well as a high-achieving student — doesn't much like the school's stance, either. He said he hasn't been a troublemaker, and neither was Gall while she attended there.

"It's not like she's just anybody," he said. "She graduated from the same school."

Some current seniors are 19, he added. Plus, if he attended almost any other high school in Pasco County, he'd be able to bring Gall to the prom.

Wesley Chapel High, for instance, allows guests up to age 20, so long as they have a clean record. River Ridge High permits dates who are 21. Zephyrhills High makes accommodations for former students in good standing who have known relationships with current seniors.

"I'd like to go," Kluender said. "For me to go myself without her would be a little weird."

Gall said she could not understand why the school would not consider guests on an individual basis, noting that everyone has to submit personal information ahead of time anyway.

"They know me," she said. "If they think it's a big deal, they could background check me. I've got nothing to hide. … I'm not 21 where it could be a problem with the whole alcohol situation. … I feel like they're saying no because they can."

School Board member Alison Crumbley, who helps collect and distribute prom dresses for girls who cannot afford them, called the Wiregrass Ranch High rule "outrageous." She said schools should take into account circumstances when looking at prom rules, and they should also take care not to alienate families who have contributed valuable time and resources.

Crumbley suggested that maybe the district should have overarching guidelines on prom attendance for schools to follow, to avoid such situations as Kluender's.

For his part, Kluender said he could have done what he's seen other kids do in past years — buy tickets and just show up with someone who isn't supposed to be there. He said he went in early to ask for direction because he wanted to clear his date "the right way."

He hasn't given up hope yet, though.

"I definitely want to fight it," Kluender said. "It's the prom."

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at solochek@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at www.tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.

Wiregrass Ranch High bars prom date, 19, as over-age 03/31/11 [Last modified: Thursday, March 31, 2011 9:35pm]
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