Prom’s still off at a high school that canceled it rather than let a lesbian student bring her girlfriend, but a judge ruled Tuesday the district’s actions did violate the teen’s constitutional rights.
U.S. District Judge Glen H. Davidson refused the American Civil Liberties Union’s demand to force the school district to put on the April 2 prom. However, he said canceling it did violate 18-year-old Constance McMillen’s rights and he would hold a trial on the issue.
That would come too late for the prom to be salvaged at Itawamba Agricultural High School.
The ACLU sued the district to force it to put on the prom and allow McMillen to bring her girlfriend and wear a tuxedo. School officials said in U.S. District Court they decided to cancel because McMillen’s challenge to the rules had caused disruptions.
The judge noted she has been openly gay since she was in the eighth grade and she intended to send a message by wearing a tuxedo and escorting a same-sex date.
“The court finds this expression and communication falls squarely within the purview of the First Amendment,” Davidson said.
McMillen said she was happy about the ruling but doesn’t know what to expect when she returns to school. She attended classes a day after the March 10 decision to cancel the prom. But she said the hostility and comments from other students led her to miss school.
Davidson said a private prom parents are planning will serve the same purpose as a school-sponsored one, but McMillen isn’t sure if she’ll go to the dance.
“I want to go because all my junior and senior class will be there, but I don’t want to be somewhere I’m not welcomed,” McMillen said.
She approached school officials about bringing her girlfriend in December, and again in February. Same-sex prom dates had been banned in the past, but she had hoped school officials would grant her request. She was told two girls couldn’t attend together and she wouldn’t be allowed to wear a tuxedo, court documents show. The ACLU issued a letter earlier this month, and the district responded by canceling the event.
District officials said they felt not hosting the prom was the best decision “after taking into consideration the education, safety and well being of our students.” Superintendent Teresa McNeece said it was “a no-win situation.” The 715-student school is located in Fulton in rural, north Mississippi.