Parents of upper-school students at Sidwell Friends were pranked yesterday with a fake school memo that announced, among other questionable measures, that students attending the prom this Friday, May 23, would be given vouchers for contraceptives. As The Washingtonian reported, school officials quickly debunked the well-written but fictional memo as a fake and assured parents it did not actually come from the principal’s office.
Today, Ellis Turner, the associate head of school, tells us Sidwell has not yet singled out the perpetrator/perpetrators of the prank, or, at least, “not that I’m prepared to say. It’s under investigation.” Will there be a punishment? “Of some sort,” he says.
Most assume the so-called “condom memo” was part of that time-honored tradition of senior pranks, but because Sidwell is the school of presidential daughters Sasha and Malia Obama, the stunt got national attention.
If only it ended there for the Quaker school on Wisconsin Avenue. Overnight in our inbox arrived a more recent memo, this one thoroughly serious. Titled “Note to Parents Regarding This Friday’s Prom” and signed by “Mr. Woods, Upper School Dean of Students,” it outlines the strict restraints on the Sidwell prom. According to Turner, “This is very common for DC-area schools. Some are more restrictive than this.”
Any more restrictive and it would begin to sound like Footloose. Sidwell hasn’t gone as extreme as that movie, but the school will have a Breathalyzer at the dance. Turner says these are “very common” practices and procedures in an era of serious concerns about teenage alcohol and drug abuse. “It’s not just Sidwell,” he says.
But with all the strong language about prom rules, what stood out to us is where both the dance and the after-party will be held: the Four Seasons Hotel. The economy must be looking up if a school, even a well-endowed private school, can afford one of the most expensive hotels in Washington.
Here are the highlights (or lowlights, if you are a student) of the Sidwell prom memo:
• Chartered busses will be available at the school to shuttle students to the Four Seasons, starting at 8 PM, with a last run at 2:30 AM.
• Attendance will be taken upon arrival at the hotel and upon departure.
• After attendance is taken, “everyone will be vectored by the hotel personnel” to a locked room where they can store bags with a change of clothing for the after-party. The room will be unlocked for changing time before the after-party.
• “The Prom Committee and the Parents Association have created an elaborate setup in that room for everyone to enjoy themselves, all under the supervision of parent volunteers.”
• No student will be allowed to leave the prom early without “prior permission” from the dean of students, or without their parents’ physical arrival at the prom.
• “As we do with all dances, the Breathalyzer will be on site to be used when warranted.” The students’ clothing bags may also be examined.
The memo urges parents and students to “remain vigilant” about drinking and substance abuse. There are serious penalties for violating any of Sidwell’s prom rules, including suspension or expulsion and exclusion from graduation ceremonies. While the memo says, “Unfortunately, there have been incidents in the past,” it optimistically concludes with the expectation that “this prom will be a fun affair and free of incidents.”
We wondered aloud to Turner whether the Secret Service helped write the memo. He did not laugh. When we asked him if he was looking forward to the school year coming to an end, he said, “I work year-round. I want to keep it going all year. I can’t wait till next fall.”