Mississippi School District and ACLU Reach Agreement Over Student Whose Tuxedo Photo Was Excluded From Senior Portrait Section of Yearbook

December 7, 2011 11:10 am

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New Policy Has Students Wear Cap and Gown in Portraits

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JACKSON, Miss. – The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Mississippi reached an agreement today with the Copiah County School District in a dispute over the exclusion of student Ceara Sturgis’ photo from the senior portrait section of the yearbook because she posed in a tuxedo. The district has agreed to adopt a policy that will require all students to wear a cap and gown, rather than require boys to wear tuxedos and girls to wear drapes.

As part of the agreement the school will include Sturgis’ photo featuring the tuxedo in her class’s composite picture hanging in the school library.

“I am thrilled that my photo will join my classmates on the wall of our school library,” said Sturgis. “It’s important that nobody else will be forced to wear something that doesn’t reflect who they are.”

The school will also amend its anti-discrimination policy to add language affirming its commitment to following the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.

“Hopefully no other students will be excluded from this important rite of passage simply for expressing themselves,” said Bear Atwood, legal director of the ACLU of Mississippi. “Copiah County School District has done the right thing by changing the yearbook policy so no students have to feel as if they’re out of place.”

Sturgis was an honor student at Wesson Attendance Center in the district, where she attended school from kindergarten through her senior year. At home and at school, she dresses in clothing that is traditionally associated with boys and had previously not encountered any problems from her peers or teachers. When she had her formal senior portrait taken, she opted to wear a tuxedo, rather than a drape that gives the appearance of wearing a dress or a blouse. Because of her attire, the school refused to publish her photo and name in the senior portrait section of the yearbook.

“We’re glad that a resolution has been reached and that Ceara’s photo will be included in the school library along with the photos of the rest of her classmates,” said Joshua Block, staff attorney with the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Project. “All students deserve to attend school in a setting that lets them be comfortable being themselves.”

Attorneys on the case include Block and Christine Sun of the ACLU LGBT Project, Atwood of the ACLU of Mississippi and Norman C. Simon, Joshua Glick, Jason Moff and Lee Strock of Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP.

More information on this case can be found here: www.aclu.org/lgbt-rights/sturgis-v-copiah-county-school-district

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