Sitting around a bowl, a group of Newport Beach high school boys took turns plucking folded papers with numbers written on them. The lower their number, the better their odds of landing a prom date with the girl of their choice.
Casting aside the tradition of actually asking someone on a date, some male students at affluent Corona del Mar High School say they select prom dates in an NFL-style draft — selling first-round picks to those eager for a top selection.
Word of the "prom draft" prompted Kathy Scott, the school's principal, to send an email to parents over the weekend, saying that "it is not OK for any student to be objectified or judged in any way."
School officials said they are now investigating the "prom draft," which was first reported by the Orange County Register. School officials say the draft is being classified as a rumor.
But one student, a junior who is not being identified because he would face potential school disciplinary action, said this is the second year the event has been held.
One junior, he said, paid $140 for a better draft pick to increase his chances of getting first dibs on a specific girl.
"It's awkward because he spent a large amount of money to go with someone he doesn't talk to," the student said. "And she finds it awkward that he chose her."
The drafted girls, for the most part, go along with the system, the student said.
"A lot of the girls respect the draft and stick with those dates," he said.
Last year, the student said, some female students were upset, but only because junior boys were asking out sophomores instead.
"I understand about it seeming like [it's] objectifying women," he said, "but when girls ask guys, most of the time they are looking for looks as well in their prom dates."
In 2009, the American Civil Liberties Union sued the school, alleging that the campus fostered a sexist and homophobic atmosphere. The civil rights suit stemmed from an incident in which three male athletes at the school posted a video on Facebook in which they allegedly used homophobic slurs, "outed" a student and threatened to rape and kill a female student.
School officials were accused of not adequately responding to the video.
That same year, the high school canceled a production of "Rent," but relented and let the show go on after widespread media coverage.
"There's definitely issues at that school with certain students feeling entitled," said Jane Garland, the school district's former head of discipline. "The culture in Newport Beach is ridiculous and CDM personifies it."
Garland resigned in the wake of a cheating scandal this year, saying the district had mishandled the incident and ignored her recommendations.
Newport-Mesa Unified School District officials declined to comment on the prom controversy but in her email to parents, Scott said that she'd heard about an ongoing "prom draft" and that it appeared there was a similar draft last year.
"I need your help. I urge you to talk with your student(s) and discuss the seriousness of this type of activity," Scott wrote. "I do not believe this is intended to be harmful, but this is not behavior that is consistent with our school's outstanding reputation."
A female junior at Corona del Mar High School said about 15 junior boys participated in the draft as a way to avoid any skirmishes if they wanted to invite the same girl. She said drafted female students are free to refuse a date.
"The whole premise of it is not bad at all," she said. "The way they've labeled it as a draft is not the nicest way to ask a girl, but I don't think it's objectifying women."
Martha Fluor, vice president of the school district, said if the prom draft is more than a rumor, it would be both an unethical and immoral way to treat female students.
"It's degrading them, objectifying them," Fluor said. "Are we inoculating our students by virtue of what's on TV, what's occurring in our society?"
The prom draft wouldn't merit expulsion, she said, but the students could face suspension, especially if money was exchanged.
Daily Pilot staff writer Hannah Fry contributed to this report.