Brother Kenneth M. Hoagland had heard all the stories about prom-night debauchery at his Long Island high school: Students putting down $10,000 to rent a party house in the Hamptons. Pre-prom cocktail parties followed by a trip to the dance in a liquor-loaded limo. Fathers chartering a boat for their children's late-night "booze cruise."
Enough was enough, Hoagland said. So the principal of Kellenberg Memorial High School canceled the spring prom in a 2,000-word letter to parents this fall.
"It is not primarily the sex/booze/drugs that surround this event, as problematic as they might be; it is rather the flaunting of affluence, assuming exaggerated expenses, a pursuit of vanity for vanity's sake -- in a word, financial decadence," Hoagland said, fed up with what he called the "bacchanalian aspects."
"Each year it gets worse -- becomes more exaggerated, more expensive, more emotionally traumatic," he added. "We are withdrawing from the battle and allowing the parents full responsibility. [Kellenberg] is willing to sponsor a prom, but not an orgy."
The move brought a passionate reaction from students and parents at the Roman Catholic school, owned by the Society of Mary (Marianists), a religious order of priests and brothers.
"There are problems with the prom," said senior Alyssa Johnson, "but I don't think their reasons or the actions they took solved anything."
Hoagland began talking about the future of the prom last spring after 46 seniors made a $10,000 down payment on a $20,000 rental in the Hamptons for a post-prom party. When school officials found out, they forced the students to cancel the deal.
But some parents rented a Hamptons house anyway, Hoagland said.
Amy Best, an associate professor of sociology and anthropology at George Mason University and the author of "Prom Night: Youth, Schools and Popular Culture," said this is the first time she has heard of a school canceling the prom for such reasons.
"A lot of people have lamented the growing consumption that surrounds the prom," she said, noting it is not uncommon for students to pay $1,000 on expensive dresses, tuxedo rentals, flowers, limousines, pre- and post-prom parties.
Best pinned some of the blame for the burgeoning costs on parents, who often open their wallets for whatever their child demands. "It is a huge misperception that the kids themselves are totally driving this."
Edward Lawson, the father of a Kellenberg senior, said he and other parents are discussing whether to organize a prom without the sponsorship of the 2,500-student school.
"This is my fourth child to go through Kellenberg, and I don't think they have a right to judge what goes on after the prom," he said. "They put everybody in the category of drinkers and drug addicts."
Some parents said they support Hoagland.
"The school has excellent values," said Margaret Cameron. "We send our children here because we support the values and the administration of the school, and I totally back everything they do."
Hoagland said in an interview that many parents, who pay $6,025 in annual tuition, have expressed appreciation for his stern stand. "For some, it was an eye-opener," he said. "Others feel relieved that the pressure is off of them."
Chris Laine, a senior from Rockville Centre, said the cancellation was "unfortunate, but you can't really argue with the facts they present. . . . It's just what it's evolved into. It's not what it was 20, 30 or 40 years ago. It's turned into something it wasn't originally intended to be."
Besides, Laine noted, the senior class still has a four-day trip to Disney World scheduled for April.
"We go to all the parks with our friends," he said just before hopping into his jet-black Infiniti and driving off to meet friends for an after-school snack. "We fly down together and stay in the same hotel and so it's not like we're totally losing everything."