About 40 Land O’Lakes High students were turned away from prom Saturday without a refund, and could face even more disciplinary consequences after an investigation into what happened on the party bus that drove them from Land O’Lakes to the event in Tampa.
According to several district officials, some students were drinking alcohol on the bus, and even asked the driver to pull over along the way to dispose of the used containers and other evidence. By the time they arrived, officials said, some students stumbled off the bus severely incapacitated to the point where school leaders decided to call 9-1-1.
Three ambulances arrived, and two teens were taken to the hospital, officials said.
Out of an abundance of caution, principal Ric Mellin said, none of the teens were allowed into the party. Their parents were called to pick them up.
“We did it to ensure they were safe the remainder of the night,” Mellin said. “We were not able to determine who consumed what.”
Mellin noted that he took several steps ahead of the prom to caution parents and students against such behavior. He sent messages via phone, website, social media and email, going so far as to have students sign a behavior agreement. In it, they were told that they could face consequences for things like being in a vehicle with alcohol or other substances, even if they did not participate, and that they would not get their money back if ejected from the prom.
“I did clearly outline the concerns we have with party buses,” Mellin said, adding that most of the students accepted the responsibility for what happened.
On Sunday into Monday, though, a handful of parents began contacting district officials with their complaints.
One mother said the people in the back of the bus didn’t know what was happening, and shouldn’t have been held responsible. Another complained that the children were held out as examples in front of their friends, not allowed to have fun, all because of the poor choices of a couple on the bus.
The issue of having spent so much money to be treated in such a way came up in each correspondence.
Despite the angry emails, deputy superintendent Ray Gadd said the district found nothing wrong with the way Mellin and his staff handled the situation while also trying to chaperone the others at the prom.
“This administration is going to support him,” Gadd said.
With the immediacy of the action in the past, Mellin said he and his team had begun gathering more details about what happened and how, to see if anyone in particular holds more responsibility.
“We’re going to try to piece together as much information as we can,” Mellin said. “We are looking into this situation.”