Why James Tate now gets to go to prom – but passed on the free tux

After his dramatic prom invitation got James Tate banned from the big dance, public outcry via social media persuaded the headmaster to reconsider her decision.

Gregory Shaver / Journal Times / AP / File
An abandoned shoe sits beside dancers at the May 21 prom in Racine, Wisc. James Tate, who achieved a social media notoriety after his over-the-top prom invitation resulted in him being banned from the big dance, will be allowed to attend his school's prom this Saturday, after all, announced the headmaster on May 14.

James Tate can now count down the hours till the big night. His prom at last arrives this Saturday, after weeks of unintentional fame: he was banned from the dance for posting an invitation to his date on the wall of Shelton High School in Connecticut.

News spread like wildfire on social media sites, where most responded with outrage that the punishment didn’t fit the crime. The pressure on school headmaster Beth Smith, largely in the form of a Facebook campaign that attracted nearly 200,000 supporters, prompted her to reverse her decision.

Originally, she had stuck by the school policy of banning any student from the prom who received a suspension after April 1. But on May 14, she told reporters she would come up with alternate consequences – on a case-by-case basis – for students who received suspensions after April 1.

“No one could have anticipated that this would have been blown out to the proportions it was,” said Superintendent Freeman Burr, after Ms. Smith’s statement.

“Certainly for all of us gentlemen here, James Tate has set for us a new standard for romanticism,” said Mr. Burr. “We’re happy we’re able to put this behind us and we’re looking forward to a successful conclusion to the school year.”

In his second appearance on the Today Show, Mr. Tate said he thought the whole matter had been “blown completely out of proportion,” but that he and his date, Sonali Rodrigues, “will still manage to have fun.”

Shelton High School alumni, who had been organizing an alternative prom in protest, decided to use the funds they raised for a scholarship in Tate’s name. It will be given to a graduating senior who “exemplifies creative expression, youth empowerment, integrity and grace,” according to the SheltonPatch website.

Among the celebratory comments on the Facebook page was an invitation from Irene Caulfield, owner of Sabrina Style dress and tux shop, for Tate to get outfitted for free. The invitation extended to his date, too, and the two friends that had gotten into trouble for helping him post the invitation.

Ms. Rodrigues already had a gown, and Tate already had a vintage cutaway tux, Ms. Caulfield says. But on May 28, Tate and his friends came in and Tate picked out a white vest and bowtie. When asked if she felt like she had a celebrity in her midst, she said, “a celebrity with his 15 minutes of fame. He just handles it so well, he’s so laid back.”

But the social-media pressure included a mean-spirited aspect as well, with some commenters comparing Smith to Hitler before she reversed her decision. Shelton police have been guarding her at home and at school, the Connecticut Post reports.

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