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Yearbook pic decision may bring lawsuit

WESSON – The American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi hasissued a demand letter insisting that Wesson Attendance Centerofficials recant their decision to bar a female student’s seniorportrait taken in a tuxedo from being in the school’s yearbook – orthe two entities will face each other in court.

ACLU of Mississippi Legal Director Kristy L. Bennett said theforced omission of the photo of Wesson senior Ceara Sturgis, a gaystudent who chose to be photographed in a tuxedo rather thanwomen’s clothing, is a violation of Sturgis’ First Amendmentrights.

“Mainly, this is an issue of free expression under the FirstAmendment,” Bennett said.

Bennett said school officials have until Friday to respond tothe demand letter and reverse the decision or the ACLU will pursuelegal action against the school. School officials had not respondedto the letter as of late Wednesday afternoon.

Copiah County School District Superintendent Rickey Clopton saidthe district would turn the issue over to its legal representationif necessary. He said he has not seen the ACLU’s demand letter anddid not comment on the situation surrounding Sturgis.

“I think they’ve already made it clear on how the school hasaddressed the picture,” Clopton said. “I don’t think the yearbookcomes out ’till May, so we’ll just have to see I guess.”

Sturgis said the prospect of a lawsuit against her high schoolmakes her nervous, and such is not the course of action shewants.

“It’s not that I want a lawsuit, I just want to stand up for myrights,” she said. “I don’t want to start anything – that’s not whyI’m doing this. I’m doing this because I think I have the right tobe in the yearbook no matter what I’m wearing.”

Omitting her tux-clad picture form the yearbook would robSturgis of some high school memories, she said.

“When I look back in 20 years, I’m not even going to see myselfthere,” she said.

Sturgis said Wesson Attendance Center Principal Ronald Greersent a letter to her and her mother, Veronica Rodriguez, sayingthat male students were required to wear tuxedos and femalestudents were required to wear drapes in senior portraits.

But Sturgis had already been photographed in a tuxedo. Attemptsto discuss the issue with Greer were unsuccessful, she said.

“(Greer) is a really good principal, but he says stuff and doesstuff because of his religious beliefs, and he needs to watchthat,” Sturgis said. “I believe in God. I think (Greer’s) religiousbeliefs are good, but I don’t think he should judge me just becauseI’m gay.”

Greer was out of town Wednesday at a school-related function andwas not available for comment Thursday morning.