The flowers, frilly dresses and boys clad in their formal wear are all part of the rite of passage that US teens are treated to every spring – The Prom, that is!

While kids across America look forward to that special day, one teen’s dream was met with disappointment.

Jayce Whisenhunt has autism. When he didn’t feel comfortable asking a schoolmate to the prom, his older sister, Jessica Helling, offered to go with him. Instead of a fun-filled night of dancing, the couple was asked to leave. Why? The school’s rules state that no one over the age of 20 may attend the prom. Helling, 24, didn’t meet the age requirements and was not allowed in.

Helling told the U.S. news station WSMV, “As soon as I said my age, she said, ‘Oh no,no,no. You Can’t come in here. Nobody over the age of 20 can come in here.” Knowing that her younger brother struggled in social situations and needed her at the prom Helling added, “I said, ‘But ma’am, he’s special needs. He’s my little brother. We’re siblings. It’s not like we’re boyfriend and girlfriend’.”

Whisenhunt, 20, was unaware of the rule prior to the prom. The boy’s father, Tone Whisenhunt, believes that the Montgomery County High School (in Tennessee) should have made an exception, given his son’s special needs, telling WSMV, “Your kids have one prom and he didn’t even get to go to it.”

A friend of the family paid $400 for Jayce’s suit and his father bought flowers. The siblings were excited for a night of dancing and they were blind sighted by the school’s demands. Not having any knowledge of the age restriction, neither Jayce nor his sister could have imagined that they would be denied admittance.

The school’s spokesperson noted that Jayce was allowed to stay at the prom – just without his sister. Claiming that the couple never signed up for the event, school personnel was caught off guard and did not have time to prepare for the situation telling WSMV, “if there had been a request for an exception to the rules, we certainly would have entertained that and worked with the family, but at no time was there a request.” With that in mind, sticking to the rules was the only recourse.

The ‘rules are rules’ mentality isn’t shared by everyone. Many in the Tennessee community (and many more online) did not agree with the school’s decision.

Even though Jayce technically could have stayed at his prom, without his sister there to provide comfort, he did not want to manage the dance on his own. This left Jayce without the night that he had so hoped would happen. That said, Jayce may still very well get the prom that he deserves.

He community is raising money through a GoFundMe page to support an all-ages prom for Jayce. Even though the target amount was $3,000, more than $7,500 had been raised within days of the story breaking. The excess money raised will go to the family as well as autism awareness/special needs charities and Project Search, a US-based organisation (which now has sites in Canada, Scotland, England, Australia and Ireland) that helps people with developmental disabilities with job training and securing employment.

Slated for June 10, “Jayce’s Prom” is set to be a night of inclusion, where everyone (of any age) is welcome. The prom will be held at the Wilma Rudolph Center – the same venue that was the backdrop for the original dance.

So tell us, do you think the school overreacted or do you support them with their decision?

Author

Belinda's a passionate advocate for community and connection. As the founder of the Mum Central Network she’s committed to celebrating the journey that is Australian parenthood. Mum to two cheeky boys, and wife to her superstar husband, they live a busy but crazy lifestyle in Adelaide. Great conversation, close friends and good chocolate are her chosen weapons for daily survival. Oh, and bubbles. Champagne is key.

1 Comment

  1. It sounds like the school messed up in not making (or not effectively communicating) the rule well before the event (i.e. when students were asking partners). So the school messed up, and should have extended compassion on the spot in my opinion.

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