The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Mississippi filed a lawsuit against Wesson Attendance Center in Copiah County today demanding compensation for damages and attorneys' fees after the district excluded a photo of lesbian student Ceara Sturgis from the senior page of the school's yearbook for wearing a tuxedo.
"It's not about the money," Sturgis' mother Veronica Rodriguez told the Jackson Free Press today. "It's about not letting this happen to another student. I would hate for another student to hurt like Ceara did. Seeing her cry when her picture wasn't in there broke my heart."
The school's 2009 yearbook contained multiple photos of Sturgis, including one of her wearing a tuxedo on a page her mother purchased, but school leaders refused to allow Sturgis' photo on the senior page, which Rodriguez described as the loss of "a glory photo."
"This (photo) shows she made it through all these years, and she was an honor student and placed first and they couldn't put her picture in there? Uh-uh," Rodriguez said.
The lawsuit alleges that Copiah County School District Superintendent Rick Clopton and Wesson Attendance Center Principal Ronald Greer of violated Sturgis' rights under the Educational Amendment of 1972, and the Equal Protection clause of the United States Constitution, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex and sex stereotypes.
Sturgis posed for the senior page photo in a tuxedo, but according to the suit, the district informed Rodriguez that it would not use the photo. Last October, ACLU submitted a letter to the district, on behalf of Sturgis, challenging the district's dress code policy. That same month, according to the suit, the district ignored Sturgis' request. Sturgis waited until after the district published its yearbook earlier this year to launch the suit.
The ACLU argues that the Educational Amendments of 1972 make clear that: "No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance ..." and that Copiah County School District receives federal financing assistance.