• Alpharetta student sues over prom changes

    By: Mike Petchenik

    Updated:

    ALPHARETTA, Ga. - An Alpharetta High School student has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the school principal, a teacher, and the Fulton County School system, claiming he was removed as president of the student body for proposing a change to school policy to benefit gay and lesbian students.
     
    Reuben Lack told Channel 2's Mike Petchenik his proposal would have changed the terms "Prom King and Queen" to "Prom Court" to be more inclusive of gay and lesbian students who might be elected to the position.
     
    "Even when we were coming to consensus on the gender-neutral term, that’s when the teachers shut down the discussion," Lack told Petchenik.
     
    Lack said he brought the issue up again at a later meeting only to have the faculty advisor again stop the discussion.  A few weeks later, Lack said he was called in and told he would be removed from office.
     
    "They mention in that meeting that pushing personal projects was part of the basis for kicking me out," he said. “It really just hurt me. They were doing this in a very personal way.”
     
    Lack believes he was targeted for pushing a proposal that wasn't popular with school administration.
     
    "Students who disagree in a constructive and respectful manner should not be punished for it," said Lack.
     
    Lack's attorney, James Radford, said the school violated his client's First Amendment rights.
     
    "If a student brings up an issue that’s unpopular, the First Amendment says you can’t punish someone simply because you disagree with their viewpoint on an issue," he said. "That’s just not consistent with American democracy and certainly not with the First Amendment.”
     
    School officials have a different opinion about why Lack was removed.
     
    "This student was relieved from his position because he failed to complete his responsibilities according to set bylaws, nothing more," school spokeswoman Samantha Evans said in an e-mailed statement. "We assure you that no one at Alpharetta High School has made any decision that would be considered biased or prejudiced."
     
    Evans forwarded Petchenik a letter from school board attorneys to Lack's attorney that disputes his argument:
     
    "Unfortunately, the student underperformed or acted improperly in several areas, including, but not limited to, refusing to comply with direct instructions of the teachers who served as faculty advisors on several occasions, issues with incivility, admittedly taking advantage of his position, presenting ideas and projects to administration and advisors and failing to follow up on the needed steps to implement the ideas and projects; misrepresenting his progress on projects, canceling and rescheduling meetings that were inconvenient to him, some with little notice and not participating in all of the activities of student government," said the letter from Suzann Jiles.
     
    Lack's lawsuit seeks reinstatement to office. A judge hasn't yet set a court date.


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