It was a perfect story of moms gone wild — hilarious from a distance.
Within hours, media worldwide lit up: "Clean up your act! Chaperone moms spray dirty dancing kids with Lysol at prom," declared London's Daily Mail. "Worst Prom Ever," went the msn.com headline. A third outlet cited the actions of two chaperones at this year's Manitou Springs High School prom an example of the intolerance that comes from living so close to Focus on the Family.
All the while, Jennifer Farmer and Hannah Rockey watched in horror.
"This was blown completely out of proportion," says Farmer. "And when the media found out that it was 'Lysol,' they said, 'Oh, this is perfect.' It went international, and it was all inaccurate."
The story, then, is well-known: According to a police report, Rockey and Farmer — dressed in Army fatigues and wearing combat boots — verbally assaulted teenagers at prom back in April, then sprayed them with Lysol. The teens claimed it got into their mouths and eyes, and onto their clothes.
The police officer who filed the report didn't see the incident, though one of his colleagues remembered Farmer saying that evening that she "had ways to deter" inappropriate behavior, including using Lysol. Manitou Springs police Chief Joe Ribeiro won't talk about the incident specifically. But he notes that "the court is the trier of fact, and not the police report. Just because an officer records someone's statement doesn't make it true."
One student pressed criminal harassment charges. Farmer, 43, and Rockey, 42, say their attorneys told them to keep quiet. They agreed to mediation, made a donation to the school's prom fund, issued apologies, and saw the charges dismissed.
But now they say there were inaccuracies in the police report: They weren't rogue parents asked to leave the prom; they didn't spray Lysol on anyone; they didn't call anyone a vulgar name.
"I'm not a prude, and neither is Hannah," says Farmer. "We're not crazy, or religious zealots. This isn't the movie Dirty Dancing."
Rockey says she chaperoned because her daughter asked her to. Farmer decided to help, and while both were given permission, they say neither received guidance regarding how to handle misbehavior. (The administration opted not to speak to specific questions for this story; it issued a statement that's excerpted below.)
The prom's theme was based on the movie Avatar, in which the military invades a peaceful alien world. Farmer and Rockey decided on military dress to keep with the theme. One of the props they brought, they say, was a bottle of vanilla air freshener. "It is supposed to be a paradise," says Rockey, "so it would smell good."
Multiple times, Rockey says, she engaged the teens about their dancing — which her daughter had warned her about. "[Girls] were bent over 90 degrees, hands on the floor, skirts up and guys thrusting into their posteriors." After the fourth time, she says, she got into the middle of the group and pumped the fragrance into the air above her own head.
Reports by school staff echo some students' claims that Rockey and Farmer used words like "whores" and "trashy" in describing their behavior. But the two women have also provided the Indy with a dozen supportive letters from students who were there, and parents as character witnesses. "I saw one boy get upset with Jennifer when she asked him and his partner to separate," one letter reads. "Although his attitude was combative and almost aggressive, Jennifer remained calm and told him simply and clearly that he was not behaving the way she expected him to."
A former eight-year member of the Manitou Springs District 14 School Board, Farmer says she'd attended other school dances, and noticed increasingly sexual dancing. She says she encouraged administrators to adopt a policy against it, which Manitou didn't have.
District 11's Doherty High School mandates that students "agree to appropriate dancing (no grinding, etc.)." Coronado is more explicit, with policies against "getting low," "exploring hands," and bending over while dancing. Academy School District 20's Rampart High vaguely states, "Inappropriate dancing may lead to removal from the event."
"What we saw at this prom," Farmer says, "if they had been at any other high schools, they would have been kicked out."
Anna Lord served on the school board with Farmer. She wasn't at the dance, but says she can't believe that two well-known parents received no benefit of the doubt.
"Any kid can point a finger at a chaperone or teacher, and make a sort of accusation about what they said or did, and the parent has no protection?" she asks. "That's a scary precedent."
Parent Christi Mayfield says she got no support from administration when she, as a chaperone, previously raised similar dancing concerns.
"It has been going on for a long time, and it's not right," she says. "The school district needs to stand up and get some guts."
With the homecoming dance scheduled for Oct. 6, the district in fact has created a policy. In regard to student behavior, it reads simply, "Students and guests attending a MSHS dance agree to appropriate dancing. Consequences will include, but not limited to parent contact, disciplinary referral and being asked to leave the dance with no refund."
In a statement prepared for the Indy, superintendent Ed Longfield writes:
"It is our utmost desire that all parties involved can put this issue finally behind us, that we come together as a community and restore relationships that have certainly been damaged."