More than 30 8th graders and parents arrived at the Wynn School Library Thursday night, hoping to have the chance to change the mind of Principal John Weir regarding format of the end-of-the-year 8th grade dance.
They left disappointed and, in some cases, angry.
"It really wasn't even a discussion. His mind was made up," said Sheryl Liggiero, mother of an 8th grader. "We asked him if there was a reason (for the change) and he said, 'I don't have to give you a reason.'"
"He wouldn't listen to what anyone would say. He had his mind set," said Rachel Bradley, a Wynn School 8th grader and the only student allowed to officially speak at the meeting. "
What had the students and parents up in arms was a decision by Weir to change the theme of the dance to a "tie-dye" dance. Weir said each of the 8th grades four "teams" would have color-coded tie-dye shirts. He said he envisioned the theme of the dance as an extension of a field day that will also be held near the end of the school year, featuring team activities and team-building exercises.
"Middle school is about team building and the team format more than the individual," said Weir.
The 8th grade dance at the end of the school year has been a tradition in Tewksbury going back at least 30 years. Over that time it has taken on the format of a "semi-formal" with some students, especially female, choosing to dress up in dazzling party attire.
But that, said Weir, is part of the problem. He said the dance was never intended to be an elaborate prom-like event. He said it was always supposed to just be an end-of-the-year dance. He showed a memo he sent out prior to the 2011 event, which stated directly that the event was NOT a semi-formal and that students should not go overboard with clothing.
As it is, said Weir, there has always been a wide range of attire at these dances. "There was always inconsistent dress with the kids," he said. "Some were in t-shirts and jeans, some in button down shirts, some more elaborate. So we're not taking away the semi-formal because there never was a semi-formal."
Weir said when he was deciding about the format of the dance, he consulted the teachers and then went to the Parents Advisory Council, who told him it was a good idea.
He told the students that had gathered for the PAC meeting that he appreciated their initiative.
"I told them I was glad they came and that they advocated their position," said Weir.
But that was as far as he was willing to go. He would not re-open discussions about the format of the dance. When one male student asked, "Why can't we have a say," Weir responded, "There are some decisions the adults are going to make."
Weir stressed that he didn't invite the students to the PAC meeting but had invited parents to attend and join the dance committee to help organize the event.
The students were, in fact, invited to the meeting by PAC Secretary Joy Beatrice. In email correspondence with Rachel Bradley, Beatrice indicated that the PAC would be glad to discuss the matter with the students and said it had not been the PAC's decision to make the switch.
Beatrice was unable to attend Thursday's meeting. However, PAC Chairperson Laura Hulme gave her full backing to Weir.
"My whole thing is, Mr. Weir is the principal and he decides," she said.
As for the students and parents that attended the meeting, they say the fight is not over. Sheryl Liggiero said she intended to bring the matter up before the Tewksbury School Committee and Rachel Bradley indicated that the students would be willing to stage their own "semi-formal" dance, perhaps on the night of the tie-dye event.