School to pay Constance damages

Itawamba Agricultural High School in Fulton, Miss., which canceled its
prom rather than let Constance McMillen attend with her girlfriend earlier
this year, will pay her $35,000 and attorneys’ fees, the American Civil
Liberties Union reported July 20.

The judgment ends McMillen’s suit against the school and a story that
captured national attention.

The saga had taken an even nastier turn when parents and school officials,
according to the ACLU, later hatched and executed a plan to stage two
private proms — a real one and a fake one, to which Constance and eight
other people were sent while everyone else partied 30 miles away.

“I’m so glad this is all over. I won’t ever get my prom back, but it’s
worth it if it changes things at my school,” said McMillen, who allegedly
was harassed so badly by students blaming her for the prom cancellation
that she had to transfer to another high school to finish her senior year.

In settling the case, school officials also agreed to implement a policy
banning discrimination or harassment on the basis of sexual orientation
and gender identity — a first for any Mississippi public school.

“Constance went through a great deal of harassment and humiliation simply
for standing up for her rights, and she should be proud of what she has
accomplished,” said Christine P. Sun, senior counsel with the ACLU
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Project. “Thanks to her bravery, we
now not only have a federal court precedent that can be used to protect
the rights of students all over the country to bring the date they want to
their proms, but we also have the first school anti-discrimination policy
of its kind in Mississippi.”

In addition to the legal judgment against the school, an earlier ruling in
the case set a precedent that will aid other students who experience such
discrimination. In March, the U.S. District Court for the Northern
District of Mississippi ruled that school officials violated McMillen’s
First Amendment rights when it canceled the prom.

By Rex Wockner


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