Shawnda Westly can go to the Edison High School prom with anyone she pleases.
The Huntington Beach teen-ager won that right for herself and others Wednesday, less than a week after she initiated a controversy by asking for permission to attend the prom with a group of girlfriends--instead of a date.
Edison High School Principal Jack Kennedy said: "I have taken this seriously. This is more than just one high school student asking to go to the prom. I am a great believer in tradition and custom. But this issue is a matter of human rights. Common sense tells me that these rights and privileges should not be denied."
But minutes after Kennedy announced his decision that the prom would no longer be a couples-only affair, students on campus loudly denounced it.
"None of us wanted her to go to the prom without a date. It's unfair. What is she going to do all by herself?" shouted Corie Weaver.
"She's going to turn the prom into a sock hop," lamented Wendi Jenkins.
As the crowd of teen-agers grew larger, most shouting angrily that the decision was unfair, one student said Westly should have the right to choose.
"What she wants to do should have no effect on you at all," Rachel Ehrlich told the students. "If she wants to go, it should be her choice."
Shawnda, 16, said she had "faith" in the system all along. "I will definitely go with another friend who has taken this as seriously as I have." She called herself "a member of a minority group who will be met with opposition" because of her wish to go to the May 30 prom without a male date. "But as a minority group grows in numbers, so it will in acceptance," said the high school junior.
Shawnda said three boys asked her to the prom, but since none were steady boyfriends, she preferred to go with girlfriends.
Says She'll Have Fun
"I bet I will have fun whomever I dance with," Shawnda said, explaining that at high school dances, even proms, students don't always dance just with their dates.
The principal's decision was announced about an hour after the Student Senate voted 11 to 9 to keep the prom a couples-only dance.
Shawnda, accompanied by her older sister, argued her position before the Student Senate then left the room while they debated.
Student Body President Trent Marcus said the Student Senate "has been under pressure" by their fellow students to vote one way or the other. "It was a very close vote. Not unanimous or what I would call a blow-out," he said, adding he felt most students on the campus wanted the school couples-only policy to remain.
Student Senator Dena Brabender said: "It is her total right to go to the dance stag if she wants to."
Parents Support Her
Kennedy, who attended the Student Senate session, met on Tuesday with Shawnda's parents who support her.
In announcing the decision, Kennedy said "this is an issue whose time has come" and noted that he has received a great deal of unsolicited advice in the last week. Generally, students wanted the school to adhere to tradition but adults thought anyone should be able to go to the prom without a date, he said.
It has been school policy since 1972 that students must have dates to attend the prom. But now, students will be allowed to attend any formal dance without a date, he said.
Barbara Martinez, a spokesman for the North Orange County Chapter of the National Organization of Women, said the group had prepared a protest letter to send to the principal. "Now we are sending a revised letter," she said. "We applaud his decision."
After nearly a week of heated debates on the campus, David Lafosse, an 18-year-old senior, expressed his feelings. "You know what I think? I think that this whole thing has been blown way out of proportion. If she wants to go to the dance by herself . . . let her go!"