[CLARIFICATION: Some of the quotes that appeared in the original version of this article were mistakenly attributed to Superintendent Pete Righi.]
By JOHN T. WARD
Officials at Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High have killed the longstanding tradition of a homecoming king and queen because it had turned into a form of mass bullying.
So there will be no fanfare for student royalty when the 3-1 Bulldogs host undefeated Saint John Vianney Friday night.
Superintendent Pete Righi told redbankgreen Thursday that the annual election of king, queen and runners-up has in recent years devolved into “a very bad situation” in which, rather than honoring schoolmates, large numbers of students used the process to tease and embarrass individuals.
A school official who asked not to be identified said students used the voting to force winners into unlikely pairings and to create opportunities to publicly mock them when they’re introduced at midfield at halftime of the big game.
“They’ve rigged the voting,”Righi said Thursday. “I’m frankly embarrassed that it happens.”
Righi said vice principal and athletic director Chris Lanzalotto brought the administration’s concerns to members of the student government, asking if they had a solution, but came away empty-handed. The administration then decided to the end the tradition, which Righi said had “kind of outlived its usefulness.”
Righi said administrators checked with other schools and found RFH was not the only one dealing with teasing and bullying as an element of the king-and-queen election.
RFH is also not the only high school to eliminate it. Hillsboro High in Hillsboro, Oregon, killed its king and queen last month, according to the Oregonian, which reported that the decision “was made on the grounds that a popularity contest that elevates a small number of students was not the best way to unite the whole school community.”
Hillsboro students also told the newspaper that “the titles of king and queen were too restrictive for students whose gender identity might be more fluid than fits the titles of king and queen.”
The end of the custom at RFH had nothing to do with any actual or anticipated complaints by members of the school’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, Righi said, though he was aware there were rumors to that effect. A parent who alerted redbankgreen to the matter did so by asking if it was an instance of political correctness run amok.
Kate Okeson, an art teacher and advisor to Spectrum, formerly known as the Gay-Straight Alliance said there had been no complaints by LGBTQ students, and said she found the rumor troubling.
“The changes in place are not because of school climate as it relates to inclusivity or any issues related to LGBTQ youth,” she said in an email in response to questions from redbankgreen. But the fact that some school community members think otherwise “is indicative, in my mind, of a low level hysteria related to including or making school a welcome experience for all students.”
Such a rumor “is exactly the reason there are school groups and community resources like those in which I participate,” she wrote. “Imagine for a moment being the student who hears negative statements and gets blamed relentlessly for these changes?”
The action comes three years after the elimination of RFH’s homecoming dance due to poor attendance. For years, the dance was held the night before a traditional homecoming game on Thanksgiving against Red Bank Catholic, according to a 2012 report by Rumson Patch. But when that game tradition ended, the dance was moved to a Saturday night, and attendance fell off, leading to its elimination.
Righi said Friday’s game will retain a homecoming tradition of more recent vintage: the pregame carnival alongside Borden Stadium, featuring food, music and rides, beginning at 6 p.m.