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School dance turns teen away

By EDDY RAMIREZ
Published November 19, 2006


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INVERNESS - Steven Goforth says he spent $140 in clothes and tickets to the homecoming dance. His friend, Samantha Kelley, a freshman at Citrus High School, had invited him to come along.

The dance, held in the school's cafeteria on Oct. 13, was supposed to be a semiformal event. The theme was "Disco Like a Hurricane."

Steven bought new boots and a pair of blue jeans. He couldn't make up his mind on a dress shirt so he bought two. He filled the gas tank on his Buick. Everything was set and ready to go.

But the night before the dance, Samantha's mom, Theresa, got a call from the school.

Her daughter was not allowed to take Steven to the dance because he was not a student at Citrus High. Steven, who is 16, is homeschooled.

"I was upset," 15-year-old Samantha Kelley said. "It doesn't make any sense why he can't go. He hasn't done anything wrong.

"It was like the school was saying, 'How dare you want to have fun at a high school dance?' "

Now, the Goforths are demanding an apology from the school. They want to know why their son was turned away when other kids who are not students at the school were allowed in. Samantha wound up taking her cousin, who was let inside - no questions asked - even though at the time, she was a student in Michigan.

Terry Goforth, Steven's father, told the School Board last week that he's considering taking legal action against the district if he doesn't get answers.

Citrus High principal Leigh Ann Bradshaw declined to discuss the case in detail, citing student privacy rules. But she said the school tries to discourage students from bringing outside guests for safety reasons as well as a lack of space.

She raised the possibility of implementing a hard and fast rule that would bar any outside guests from school dances.

"We are just so crowded that some of our own students can't get tickets to a school dance sometimes," Bradshaw said, adding that the chief concern is safety. "We have no background information on who some of these people are."

But Terry Goforth said he gave the school more than enough information about his son.

The day of the dance he brought letters from the Citrus County Sheriff's Office and the Crystal River Police Department attesting that his son had no criminal record.

Goforth even brought a letter from the Withlacoochee Technical Institute, where Steven is a standout student in the welding program, saying that the boy had perfect attendance.

"This is bogus," Goforth said in an interview. "Why can't homeschoolers go to a school dance if I'm paying taxes here in Citrus County?"

Rich Hilgert, the district's director of student services, said homeschooled students can participate in high school sports and other extracurricular activities. But school dances are different.

"The dances are a school function," Hilgert said. "Principals get nervous when you have someone in the dance that you don't know any background information on."

Steven said he went to the school weeks before the dance to buy tickets. But, he said, he was turned away when assistant principal Jack Brady learned he was not enrolled at the school.

He was told that he would be arrested for trespassing if he tried to come on campus again, the boy said.

Having heard that students could invite outside guests, Samantha decided to get them both tickets instead. A few days before the dance, Steven gave her $20 for the tickets and, thinking that would be the end of it, he went on a homecoming shopping spree.

"I bought a new outfit," said Steven, who has a shaved head and wears jeans with a cowboy belt buckle.

The couple's plans were shot when Brady called Samantha's mom the night before the dance to say Steven was not allowed at the dance. Brady did not offer a reason.

"My daughter and Steven have been friend since they were toddlers," Theresa Kelley said in an interview. "(Brady) said her cousin was welcome but he didn't know whether my daughter's cousin was male, female or a criminal who could have been a child molester. He didn't ask."

Brady could not be reached for comment.

Steven said he still doesn't understand why Citrus High turned him away. He said he has been to several other school dances, including the homecoming dance at Lecanto High School a few years ago.

He is aware of the stereotypes against homeschooled children. But a recluse he is not, he said.

He only wishes he would have had a chance to show that at the homecoming dance.

"A bunch of my friends, who are like family to me, were going to be there," he said. "I really wanted to go."

Eddy Ramirez can be reached at eramirez@sptimes.com or 860-7305.

[Last modified November 19, 2006, 01:44:36]


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