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Board denies ‘sham prom’ for lesbian

A Mississippi school district sued by a lesbian student who wanted to bring a same-sex date to the high school prom is denying accusations it routed her to a "sham prom" while most of her schoolmates partied elsewhere.
/ Source: The Associated Press

A rural Mississippi school district that was sued by a lesbian student who wanted to bring a same-sex date to the high school prom is denying accusations it routed her to a "sham prom" at a country club while most of her schoolmates partied elsewhere.

The Itawamba County School District addressed the claims made by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of Constance McMillen in papers filed Friday with the U.S. District Court in Aberdeen.

It's been nearly two months since McMillen attended a prom at the Fulton Country Club that drew fewer than 10 other students from Itawamba Agricultural High School. Most of her classmates attended a separate event at the nearby Evergreen Community Center, to which McMillen was not invited, and later posted pictures from the dance on Internet sites.

At the time, McMillen had already sued the district over its policy banning same-sex prom dates and for canceling an April 2 school-sponsored prom after the teenager pressed to bring her girlfriend to the event and wear a tuxedo.

U.S. District Judge Glen H. Davidson ruled in March that the district had violated McMillen's rights, but he didn't force the district to reinstate the prom. District officials had told the judge that McMillen was free to attend a parent-sponsored prom.

School District Superintendent Teresa McNeece and Attorney Michele Floyd have said little publicly about the issue despite numerous calls seeking comment.

The ACLU alleged that McNeece and Floyd attended a meeting March 29 with parent organizers, where the decision was made to hold separate proms. In court documents, the school district said McNeece and Floyd did attend a meeting, but officials "deny that the parents decided instead to hold two proms, one of the plaintiff and one for her classmates."

The ACLU submitted to the court photographs the organization said were of the Evergreen dance. The district admitted some of the photographs from an event at Evergreen circulated on the Internet, but said some of the ACLU's images were of students at a function in Memphis, Tenn.

McMillen has since transferred to a school in Jackson, and will graduate June 2.

No date has been set for the lawsuit to go to trial, but the case has led other school districts to reconsider their prom policies.

The Alcorn County School Board voted May 18 to allow parents to take over sponsorship of proms. Superintendent Stacy Suggs said the decision was partially tied to Itawamba County.

"Principals don't want to police proms anyway," Suggs said Monday. "It just gave us an opportunity to bring it up from a liability standpoint."