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/ Source: TODAY
By A. Pawlowski

Homecoming court will look a little different this year at West High School in Madison, Wisconsin. Two students will still be feted, but there won’t be a king or queen crowned at this weekend’s dance, part of an effort to make the ritual gender-neutral, the school has announced.

“My hope is that students who are not feeling included and valued now really feel like they have a place at the table,” Principal Beth Thompson told TODAY Parents.

“And my hope is that the selection process is really nominating kids who are representing what we value here and the diversity of our school so that it really can be a school-wide celebration.”

The new approach was put into motion earlier this year when Thompson received a petition signed by almost 1,000 students and faculty members requesting a “more inclusive” way of choosing the courts for homecoming, prom and the mid-winter dance.

West High senior Kate Scholz, left, and West High junior Arwen Sadler are among students who applaud the school for making homecoming court

The traditional process of having students nominate a set number of boys and girls, and then vote for a boy and a girl to fit the “king” and “queen” monikers could be uncomfortable for kids who are gender fluid or identify as a different gender, the students told Thompson.

“King and queen is confining to a lot of people regardless of gender, sexual orientation, or anything,” Ellen Pryor, West High dean of students, told NBC affiliate WMTV.

After talking it over with student leaders and administrators, Thompson agreed.

“We really studied the ‘why’ of this request being made and then got to a much deeper discussion about ‘What’s the purpose of identifying these people for court?’” she recalled.

Now, instead of voting for their top 10 boys and 10 girls, students select the top 20 seniors who best represent the school's values, regardless of whether they’re male or female. Then, they choose two finalists from that group — again, regardless of gender.

“For a small subset of students, it's a really powerful change and validates, in a way, their existence," Kate Scholz, a West High Senior, told WMTV.

Instead of king and queen, the two top vote getters will be called “Regent Royalty” — a moniker the students themselves came up with, Thompson said. The finalists can be two boys, two girls or a combination.

“I can’t even say boy or girl because that’s presuming I know how they identify,” Thompson noted. “We’re really trying to move into more neutral territory.”

The school, with a student body of about 2,100, has received positive reaction from parents and the community about the change, she added.

West High is not the first high school to implement a gender-neutral homecoming court policy, but it’s one of the few in the nation to do it. Mona Shores High School in Norton Shores, Michigan, made the change in 2011. Ashland High School in Ashland, Oregon, implemented a similar policy last year.

Some universities are also embracing the trend, including colleges in Wisconsin, Arizona and Massachusetts.