Principal apologizes for telling students to 'party like it's 1776' at prom

Philadelphia’s National Constitution Center (pictured in 2011) will host the school’s prom. (Photo: William Thomas Cain/Getty Images)

A high school’s encouragement to “party like it’s 1776” has resulted in backlash and a formal apology.

As New Jersey’s Courier Post newspaper reports, Cherry Hill High School East in Cherry Hill, N.J., created a stir by issuing tickets to the senior prom with the phrase “party like it’s 1776.”

The language was in reference to the prom’s venue, the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, student body vice president Madison Vogel told Fox.

“We thought it would be fun to do a play on the Prince song [“1999″],” she explained.

But many saw it as a tone-deaf exclusion of the school’s minority students. In 1776, slavery was still alive and well, and wouldn’t be abolished for nearly 100 years. It would also be close to two centuries before civil rights legislation was passed. 

Dennis Perry, principal at Cherry Hill High School East, acknowledged the oversight in a letter of apology.

“It was insensitive and irresponsible not to appreciate that not all communities can celebrate what life was like in 1776,” he wrote in a letter that he also posted on Twitter. “I especially apologize to our African African students, whom I have let down by not initially recognizing the inappropriateness of this wording.”

According to Perry’s letter, new tickets will be issued without the controversial wording, while the school will make efforts going forward to get approval from a “diverse group of people” on relevant school communications.

Two local civil rights activists told the Courier Post that they appreciated Perry’s statement, though they stressed the importance of getting insight from minorities on these types of decisions.

“Talk about it with people before you take an action and we won’t have this happen,” Danny Elmore, vice president of the Cherry Hill African-American Civic Association, said.

“The intent was a good intent,” he added. “However, for some Americans, 1776 itself was not a good time.”

Not everyone agrees. Many of the responses to Perry’s tweet with the letter of apology charge that the controversy has been overblown and that people are unnecessarily taking offense.

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