A Georgia high school student and former student body president is suing his school district in federal court after the faculty fired him from his position, claiming they did so because he tried to make the prom more LGBT-inclusive.
Reuben Lack, a senior in the Fulton County School District, pitched a resolution during a January 12 meeting of the student council that would modify the Alpharetta High School’s “Prom King and Queen” tradition in order to make it inclusive for gay and lesbian couples.
While Lack proposed many options his leading idea was to simply change the tradition to “Prom Court” so that same-sex couples could be elected.
Lack, the legal complaint says, followed procedure regarding the resolution and an extended debate commenced.
However, AHS Student Council adviser Michelle Werre allegedly interrupted the debate and, according to the suit, demanded the topic be dropped without further discussion or a formal vote.
At the following meeting on January 26, Lack again introduced the resolution to modify the ‘Prom King and Queen’ tradition to make it more inclusive to gay and lesbian students. Werre was again openly antagonistic of the proposal and, the suit says, tried to bring about a formal vote without debate in order to have the measure removed. Lack, using his power as student government president, moved to table the resolution “so as to prevent a vote rejecting the measure without proper debate and discussion.”
Over the course of the next week Lack claims to have exchanged private off-campus emails with a fellow student in which he expressed his frustration over the way in which a proposal to organize a conference for leaders of various student organizations was “shot down” without debate by the school’s administration.
The suit claims that it was this email that was used to fabricate a case against Lack to have him fired from his position.
February 8 saw Werre and student adviser Emily Reiser call Lack into a meeting whereby they informed him that he was to be removed as student body president effective immediately because he had been “pushing personal projects” and advocating “policy changes.”
Reiser and Werre went on to say they were removing him because he had been “attacking the principal” and cited his communications with other students. This, a reference to his private off-campus discussion with a fellow student, the suit says is a lie and Lack firmly denies having ever attacked the principal in that communication or in any other such communication. It is unclear how the school faculty allegedly secured those private communications.
They then went on to cite a number of additional reasons for Lack’s removal, all of which the federal suit claims are knowingly false. They included a lack of accomplishments during Lack’s tenure as president, and a failure to attend meetings.
The suit notes that the charge of a lack of accomplishments on Lack’s part seems dubious.
Lack, a student with a 3.7 GPA, has moderated a public mayoral debate, acted as a student ambassador for the Fulton County Commission, and even helped write the first set of bylaws for the student council. In addition, as a member of the student body debate team Lack also received an Incredible Dedication Award from the county Board of Commissioners. Lack has also led initiatives to install bike racks at the school and had tried to increase the energy efficiency of AHS facilities, among other initiatives.
“These rationales for removing Lack were false, and were pretextual bases upon which to punish Lack for the exercise of his right to free speech, and to restrain future advocacy on his part,” the suit alleges.
The suit notes that he, his family, and members of the student council have met with the school’s principal and sent correspondence urging his reinstatement. All have been refused.
The suit alleges Lack’s removal from office had “no legitimate education[al] purpose” and had “a chilling effect upon student expression in general.”
However, while the school itself has not issued a comment, the District is denying that school officials acted inappropriately and contends that Lack’s removal was due to a failure to adequately perform in the role.
A Fulton County school system spokeswoman, Samantha Evans, said Lack’s proposal had “nothing to do with why this kid was removed from this position.”
“It was about his inadequate performance as a student body president,” she said. She says Lack violated the council’s by-laws. She couldn’t provide an answer when asked why the action was taken some ten months after Lack’s election.
Student council vice president Michael Danan also contends Lack’s removal wasn’t retaliatory, and was related to issues unrelated to Lack’s prom proposal. Danan tells 11Alive News that the student council actually voted overwhelmingly against Lack’s proposal.
Lack says faculty intervention stifled debate and skewed opinions on the student council.
Lack seeks reinstatement to office, costs, damages for constitutional violations and emotional distress, and punitive damages.
The suit names Fulton County School District, Alpharetta High School principal Shannon Kersey, and AHS Student Council advisers Emily Reiser and Michelle Werre as subjects of the suit.