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Quaker Valley High School to make prom court more 'inclusive'

| Thursday, May 12, 2016, 11:05 p.m.
Participating in the Quaker Valley Prom Royalty Pageant, set for 7 p.m. May 20, 2016, are, back row from left, Bobby Guild, John Medich, Robert Doherty, AJ Savocchia, and front row from left, Maddie Durbin, Allie Perri and Gabriela Zucckero. Bo Lenhardt is not pictured. This year's prom royalty will consist of Mr. QV and his escort, Ms. QV and her escort and the prom queen and her escort.
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Participating in the Quaker Valley Prom Royalty Pageant, set for 7 p.m. May 20, 2016, are, back row from left, Bobby Guild, John Medich, Robert Doherty, AJ Savocchia, and front row from left, Maddie Durbin, Allie Perri and Gabriela Zucckero. Bo Lenhardt is not pictured. This year's prom royalty will consist of Mr. QV and his escort, Ms. QV and her escort and the prom queen and her escort.

Quaker Valley High School students will name a prom queen for the last time Friday.

Led by Quaker Valley students who plan the annual event, the school will eliminate the prom queen title and its male-centric Mr. QV pageant for 2016-17 and will instead have a more inclusive prom royalty court, Principal Deborah Riccobelli said.

Under the current system, Mr. QV is selected based on his talent and the prom queen is chosen by popular vote. Next year, everyone on the court will be chosen based on merit and talent.

“It didn't seem fair (that) there was not an opportunity for girls to show their merit and talent,” said senior Isabella Olive, a member of the committee of seniors who suggested the change based on feedback from classmates. “It almost seemed archaic that there was that inequality. We wanted it to be inclusive.”

The changes are part of a broader conversation that Olive said Quaker Valley students and staff are having.

“Quaker Valley has been at the forefront of changing the conversation about gender issues, gender neutral and transgender, so giving kids opportunity where they don't have to define themselves by ‘mister' or ‘miss' would be a good option,” she said.

Quaker Valley's prom is planned for Friday at the Embassy Suites Hotel in Moon.

In recent years, schools nationwide have updated their guidelines to reflect a more diverse student body. In Kenosha, Wis., school leaders this year allowed students to be listed on a ballot for prom court under the gender with which they identify.

The prom court is “gender fluid” at Pittsburgh Creative and Performing Arts School, allowing students to choose whether they want to be voted as king or queen, according to Pittsburgh Public Schools spokeswoman Ebony Pugh. A transgender student was on the homecoming court at Pittsburgh Allderdice in the fall, she noted.

Most Western Pennsylvania schools maintain a tradition of a prom court consisting of a king and queen selected by students.

Quaker Valley has an all-female prom court, and one girl is selected as queen after a schoolwide vote. The Mr. QV pageant — initially organized to offer a male equivalent to prom queen — is judged by a panel of district staff members who name a winner.

“This year, we had a couple girls come up to us and say they wanted to participate in the talent show because they didn't think it was fair that some of the guys were able to show off their talent and win a cash prize, whereas with prom queen it was just a vote based on popularity,” said Natalie Gardiner, a senior on the organizing committee for the prom festivities.

Senior Maddie Durbin, who will compete in the Prom Royalty Pageant, said she's wondered why the Mr. QV pageant was open only to boys.

“It was really sexist that we had a fun event for the guys and a popularity contest for prom queen,” Durbin said.

Quaker Valley students had hoped to eliminate the “prom queen” title this year, but Riccobelli said the tradition already had been promoted when the students approached her with the idea.

“The point the girls made, which is a good one, is that this is much more representative of who we are as a school (and) as a student body,” Riccobelli said.

Quaker Valley school board President Sarah Heres said she's excited about the change.

“Including all students in this creative and inspiring evening is a logical progression as our students maintain traditions such as prom court and the promenade with a more current twist,” she said.

Vanessa Davis, founder of the regional gay and lesbian advocacy group THRIVE, said she is encouraged by Quaker Valley's impending changes.

“Quaker Valley is listening to its students,” she said. “Student voice is an important part of any school environment.”

Although schools are changing, there is room to grow, she said.

“More schools are changing their dress codes, allowing same-gender students to buy couples tickets and opening up their prom courts to be more inclusive, and that's amazing,” she said. “But until schools address in-classroom learning, set expectations of acceptance of students' differences and hold staff as well as students accountable for discriminatory behavior, there will continue to be a need for space for (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) youth in our community.”

Quaker Valley's prom court traditions will change, but the school's Grand March, planned for Friday at the high school in Leetsdale, will not.

“The promenade is fun because you can be with whatever partner you want — a group or by yourself,” Riccobelli said.

Bobby Cherry is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at rcherry@tribweb.com.

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