A Kansas school district is standing by its decision not to allow a member of the Air Force to escort his sister to the prom because he was too old.
The incident has stirred controversy in the city of Liberal after teenager Courtney Widener wrote an essay to the local newspaper voicing her extreme displeasure at the rule that kept her 22-year-old brother from escorting her to last weekend’s prom.
Courtney Widener had been getting ready for prom she learned that her brother was coming home for the weekend from a deployment to Afghanistan.
She knew that Casey was too old to attend the prom, but she was hoping he would be able to escort her down the “red carpet” – a popular local prom tradition that is broadcast on a local television station.
Both the school’s principal and the district superintendent turned down her request – fearing it would “open the door for others” to bend the rules.
So on prom night, Courtney’s brother, dressed in his Air Force uniform, escorted his sister to the edge of the red carpet. Video of the moment showed him standing at attention as she walked through a crowd of people. He gave her a crisp salute when she entered the school.
The young teenager was so upset over how her brother was treated, she wrote a letter to the Leader & Times newspaper.
“Not only is my brother my hero, but he ‘is’ a hero,” she wrote. “Not only did my brother fight for me in Afghanistan, but he fought for you in Afghanistan.”
“So now, the young man who was too old was forced to stand alone and watch me walk into my first prom instead of escorting me there himself,” she wrote. “The young man who has sacrificed so much for our country was unwelcome at his own alma mater.”
Courtney is calling for the school district to change its policy.
“Not only was a member of the United States military rejected by our school, but if there was a parent who wanted to escort their son or daughter, they would not be allowed in,” she added. “I never thought our school would be ashamed of their own alumni, much less someone who served our country in Afghanistan.”
Keith Adams, the principal of Liberal High School, sent Fox News a 16-paragraph reply to the student’s letter. He denied they were trying to dishonor anyone and strongly lectured the community about following the rules of the school.
“Rules are not meant to ‘dishonor’ anyone,” he wrote. “They are in place to give order to a process.”
And while Adams said Courtney had every right to be proud of her brother, the fact is that no one forced the airman to stand alone.
“This was something he chose to do – no one forced him, and no one prevented him,” the principal said. “Casey Widener is an American Airman to be honored, and our school and community are proud of his service to our country. He was in no manner intentionally dishonored and kept from attending prom due to his military service. It was simply the matter of his age being too old to meet current policy.”
The decision has sparked widespread discussion across the community – with many siding against the school.
“This is disgusting,” wrote one parent. “As a parent of a child attending liberal high am also offended by this policy.”
The principal took the community to task for questioning the school’s rules.
“It is unfortunate that her letter, along with other slanderous propaganda posted on social media has brought false accusations against our district and taken away from the true purpose of the prom,” he wrote. “Please do not vilify our school and administration for doing their jobs. Hurling negative comments around the community and social media does nothing but tear us apart.”
The principal also noted that the airman was introduced and the audience applauded. He also pointed out that another service member who was of appropriate age was admitted into the prom without incident.
“The rules simply have to be enforced consistently for everyone – and to the best of human ability they are enforced,” the principal wrote.