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    Condoms in prom gifts spark a storm of publicity

    A class president, barred from giving her commencement speech, may find a much bigger audience.

    By DONG-PHUONG NGUYEN

    © St. Petersburg Times, published May 26, 2001


    TAMPA -- A month after Blake High School's senior class president was barred from giving a commencement speech because she sneaked condoms into prom gift bags, she agreed to discuss her plight on a local radio show.


    "I thought it was a great idea," Lissette Stanley says. "I knew the school was not going to give me permission, but I thought it was the right thing to do. People are naive if they think students aren't having sex."
    What has followed is a maelstrom of interview requests from San Francisco to New York and an upcoming appearance on Good Morning America and possibly the The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.

    "I've always liked attention," Lissette Stanley said. "But I never wanted this kind of attention."

    MJ Kelli from the MJ Morning Show on WFLZ-FM 93.3 started the frenzy Wednesday when he learned of the incident from a station intern and talked about it on the air. He interviewed Stanley on his show Thursday and invited her to make her commencement address on his show at 6:40 a.m. Tuesday, the day of her graduation.

    "I don't think this incident should ruin her graduation," Kelli said. "Sex education is an important part of education for our students today and frankly, if teens are going to have sex, what's the problem with the senior class president dropping some condoms in their gift bags?"

    Principal David Best stripped Stanley of her title as senior class president, which carries with it the honor of addressing classmates at graduation. Best did not return a phone call Friday.

    School district officials said Best was lenient, considering Stanley disrupted a school event and could have been suspended because the offense violated school district policy.

    "We support the principal's decision," said spokesman Mark Hart. "David Best didn't even come close to imposing (suspension). He chose the punishment that he felt fit the offense."

    Maribel Concepcion, Stanley's mother, has met with the principal twice, begging him to reconsider.

    "After all the work she has done in the school, I can't believe they would treat her like that," Concepcion said.

    Concepcion said she has always trusted her daughter's judgment and still does.

    "She knows what she's doing," she said. "I support her, her father supports her, her family supports her."

    As senior class president, Stanley, 18, was in charge of putting together the prom. A friend, who Stanley won't identify, approached her about including condoms inside the gift bags that would be given out at the April 28 dance.

    "I thought it was a great idea," she said. "I knew the school was not going to give me permission, but I thought it was the right thing to do. People are naive if they think students aren't having sex."

    She arranged to have another student add the condoms to the bags, which were also filled with commemorative items such as picture frames and photo albums.

    The night of the prom, which was held at a Marriott, she danced all night.

    "I was having a great time," she recalled. "The prom was so good. I was so proud. I had organized it. It was all going great."

    About 11 p.m., an assistant principal asked her about the condoms. Less than a dozen students had picked up the bags before the discovery was made. Teachers confiscated them and started plucking them from the remaining 400 bags.

    Stanley was told to be in the principal's office first thing Monday morning.

    "I started crying," she said. "I had a bad time."

    Parents who called the school district were split down the middle about the issue, Hart said.

    However, he pointed out that permission was neither asked nor granted. Hart said that in 1992, ACT UP, an AIDS awareness group, went before the School Board seeking permission to distribute condoms. Their request was denied.

    "While we recognize there are teens who are going to engage in sex, we are going to encourage them to practice abstinence," he said.

    School Board member Glenn Barrington said he has no plans to revisit the issue.

    "The punishment was appropriate," he said.

    Meanwhile, Stanley said she will give her speech on the radio Tuesday, but it's going to be different from her original one.

    "Before, it was just about how we're moving on and stuff like that," she said. "But it's going to be more inspirational now because so much has happened, and I learned a lot. I learned that no matter what, you have to keep on going."

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