The mother of a Pine Tree High School student is upset that her son will not be able to attend his senior prom because of a policy regarding remote learning the district said has been in place all school year.

Beth James said her son Bret opted for virtual learning at the beginning of his senior year and that it allowed him to continue working at the family’s store, Hardin Ace Hardware. Pine Tree ISD Superintendent Steve Clugston said the district’s policy regarding virtual students also prevents them from participating in extracurricular activities such as prom.

"Last year right when the pandemic started, I hear that if you’re virtual you can’t participate in extracurricular activities, which made sense," James said. "To me, prom doesn’t seem extracurricular like sports and other stuff. That’s an event to me. That doesn’t seem to qualify."

James said she checked with someone at the school who oversees the program and was told her son could attend prom. He then got a date and started planning for the night.

She said her son then heard an announcement from his friends on campus that virtual students could not attend prom. James then reached out to a principal who told her she was given the wrong information and that virtual students are not permitted to attend prom.

Clugston said the district's policy has been in place since the beginning of the school year and that it states that virtual students cannot participate in extracurricular events.

"Virtual learning was set up by the state of Texas and allowed this year because of COVID in order to give parents an option if they didn’t feel school was a safe environment, whether it meant the kid or someone they lived with was at-risk," he said. "Now, because that is the only reason it was set up was for the protection of a kid, if you’re choosing virtual that means you’re choosing it to keep your kid safe.

“To allow your kid to attend other school activities, it contradicts the reason. Parents were told you can’t do extracurricular activities and virtual learning. If you can go to face-to-face events, then you need to be at school. And it’s been that way all year. That would be for all school-sponsored events."

Clugston said if a student wanted to participate in an extracurricular activity they had to come back to school and stay on campus, which some did. The exception to going back to virtual would have been needing to go into quarantine or another medical reason.

He said changing that rule because now people are upset about not attending prom would be unfair to the students who came back during the year.

"If you chose to do virtual for other reasons than safety, then you took advantage of a situation it was not designed for," he said. "We didn't make people fill out a questionnaire for why they chose virtual, but we trusted parents to understand that."

James said it does not make sense the students have to go to school for the STAAR tests or that they can participate in graduation but not prom.

The state requires high school students to take the STAAR exam. Clugston said virtual students can participate in graduation because virtual learning ends May 26, the last day of school.

Longview and Spring Hill High Schools both hosted prom this past weekend, and all students could attend. The districts already had ended virtual learning.

"We all want to get to the end of this and get some normalcy," James said. "There’s hardly any COVID in our town. Other kids are allowed to ask people outside of Pine Tree to go to prom."

She said her son is dyslexic, so the family took the opportunity for virtual learning.

"I’m not trying to make them change their mind,” she said. “I just want everyone to know how heartless that is. These are special times that we’re living in, and I just can’t imagine keeping a kid from prom when he’s worked just as hard. Why would you punish kids like that?"

Clugston said the district has remained consistent in its approach.

"We only set virtual up as an option for parents who didn’t feel safe during a pandemic; that’s the only reason the state allowed it," he said. "If schools aren’t safe, then face-to-face activities aren’t safe, so we’ve stayed consistent all year."

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Kristen is the News-Journal's education reporter. A Longview native, she got a journalism degree and a graduate certificate at Texas Tech University. She covers a variety of issues, including school finance, board meetings and happenings at local schools.