District maintaining yearbook photo stance

Published 5:00 am Monday, October 19, 2009

WESSON – The Copiah County School District is standing by aWesson Attendance Center decision to reject yearbook publication ofa picture of a female student wearing a tuxedo, saying legalprecedent is on the school’s side.

In a statement released Friday to the Copiah County Courier,Superintendent Rickey Clopton said the district’s legal counsel hadresearched the validity of its position. The statement was issuedin response to an ACLU demand letter on behalf of 17-year-old CearaSturgis, a gay student who submitted the photo that was rejected byWesson school officials.

“We are informed by counsel that this exact issue has beenlitigated in federal court,” Clopton said. “The decisions of thefederal courts completely support the policy of the district inthis regard.”

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Clopton went on to say the district’s position is “notarbitrary, capricious or unlawful, but is based upon soundeducational policy and legal precedent.”

No specific case law or precedents were cited in the districtstatement.

ACLU of Mississippi officials did not return calls seekingcomment on the school district’s statement.

The yearbook photo dispute started, according to Sturgis, whenWesson Attendance Center Principal Ronald Greer sent a letter toher and her mother, Veronica Rodriguez, saying that male studentswere required to wear tuxedos and female students were required towear drapes in senior portraits.

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

The yearbook photo controversy has garnered state and nationalmedia attention.

In an Associated Press story Saturday, Sturgis said she hasreceived support from across the country. The honor student andathlete said supporters “have told me I’m this hero.”

“They are my heroes,” a grateful Sturgis said in the report.