(COLORADO SPRINGS) — Palmer High School held its senior prom on Saturday night, but one senior’s plans were canceled after his principal said his date could not attend. His parents are now saying School District 11 robbed their son of this rite of passage, and believe the district is punishing an alleged victim.
When Palmer High School senior, Gabriel Perez, decided he wanted to go to prom– it was a big deal.
“He’s never been to any school functions or parties… and for him to be like ‘Mom, I’m going to go to prom, I’m going to invite my friend’… I was just like, this is huge,” said Gabriel’s mom, Stephanie Perez.
Perez is high functioning on the autism spectrum, which makes him less inclined to engage in social interactions. But, he decided he would participate in the so-called ‘night of nights’ because he felt comfortable going to prom with the friend he planned on bringing.
The April 22 prom was to be held at The Pinery at the Hill, and Gabriel’s mom said that he was excited. Leading up to the event, they talked about making dinner reservations, went to try on tuxes, looked at corsages, “All those things that come with making those memories for prom. And then, that was taken away,” Stephanie Perez said dejectedly.
Two days before prom, Principal Lara Disney denied Perez’s request to bring a former Palmer High School student as his date, who currently attends another school within District 11.
In a statement to FOX21 News on the night of prom, District 11’s Chief Communications Officer, Devra Ashby, said that administration and schools across the city reserve the right to deny any guest because of certain situations.
“This particular student who was denied admission to this prom… had a past with Palmer High School and some allegations that we can’t go into because of privacy concerns… This was thoroughly vetted and the principal and the administration at Palmer High School did deny based on safety protections for all students,” said Ashby.
According to the mother of Perez’s date, who requested to remain anonymous, the allegations are in reference to when her daughter said she didn’t feel safe on campus after she was allegedly sexually assaulted at a Palmer High School event in 2021.
“Prom for Palmer is not even on the school campus, so I don’t see how that’s going to be an issue…They said my daughter, the victim, is a safety risk. Which, to me, means they don’t want to deal with her,” said the mother.
The mother also felt confused why this became an issue now when she says her daughter was allowed to attend homecoming and prom at Palmer High School, the same year following the alleged sexual assault, and her expressing the feeling of unsafety. The girl later transferred to Coronado High School, where her mother says she is an A-student and has no record of any discipline issues.
In search of an explanation Perez and his father tried to speak with the Principal, the district school board, and even showed up at District 11 Superintendent, Michael Gaal’s office, to no avail.
“They could have sat down and it gave us a real explanation of what their position is…They could have said, how can we work together with this? They didn’t do any of that. They handled it inappropriately, unprofessionally, and without compassion,” said Gabriel’s father, Anthony Perez, who was furious at the situation.
In an email to Gabriel’s dad, Superintendent Gaal said, “While disappointing for your son, I am supporting the school’s recommendation to not allow this former student to attend the Palmer prom.”
Gabriel was still allowed to attend prom. But instead, he decided to spend his Saturday night working at his job at a burger restaurant.
“What 17-year-old boy, who isn’t a social butterfly, is just going to walk into a prom by himself?” asked his mother. “He was so upset. He ended up going to his job, and was like, ‘I just want to go work…I don’t want to think about this right now.'”
Perez did not want to be interviewed, but he and his friend along with their families say that they want the school to be held accountable.
“It’s [prom] something that you talk about for years to come…What’s his story going to be?… It’s an experience and it’s a memory, and they stole that from him,” said his father, angrily.