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|Alpharetta teen makes national news over LGBT prom lawsuit|
|by Ryan Watkins|
|March 29, 2012 11:38|
An Alpharetta High School student alleges in a recently filed lawsuit that he was forcefully removed from his student council position after advocating a change in the school’s “Prom King and Queen” tradition to be more inclusive of LGBT couples.
Reuben Lack, 18, says that two Alpharetta High School faculty advisors told him that he was being removed as the school’s student body president for “pushing personal projects.” In the complaint, filed March 20 in the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of Georgia, Lack contends he was removed over his “exercise of rights protected by the First Amendment.”
Fulton County Public Schools, which includes Alpharetta High, disputes the claim, arguing that the gay-inclusive prom policy is not why Lack was removed from office.
“The bottom line is that this allegation that the student is making is not true. This is not a district that would support any type of prejudice or bias,” said Samantha Evans, executive director of communications for the district.
Lack, a senior, has attended Alpharetta High School for four years. He’s also been a member of the student council each of those four years.
“Reuben is not your typical student council president,” Nathaniel Lack, Reuben’s father, said in an interview. “He’s not your popular kid. He’s not a football player or a cheerleader. He’s your policy kid.”
The lawsuit claims Lack, who is straight, introduced an LGBT-friendly prom resolution at a Jan. 12 student council meeting. After debating the resolution, Michelle Werre, one of the student council’s faculty advisers, demanded the resolution be dropped and said that it would not be adopted — without a vote.
Lack reintroduced the resolution at the following student council meeting on Jan. 26, according to the lawsuit. Werre “expressed great dissatisfaction” and attempted to require a formal vote without any debate, the suit continues. Lack tabled the resolution to prevent a vote rejecting the measure without debate, the lawsuit alleges.
On Feb. 8, Werre and Emily Reiser, another faculty adviser to the student council, called Lack into a meeting where they informed him he was no longer the school’s student body president.
The suit claims that Werre and Reiser told Lack he was being removed for “pushing personal projects” and for advocating “policy changes.”
Lack and his family met with school officials after his removal, including Principal Shannon Kersey, to discuss reinstatement but were told the school supported the decision made by the faculty advisers.
In an interview with GA Voice, Lack said that the school was trying to silence him over the prom resolution.
“They’ve damaged my reputation in some respects,” Lack said. “They’re putting out the position that I was a bad leader, which is hurtful to me because I respect the students, I respect the school.”
Lack said he filed the lawsuit, with the help of attorney James Radford, for one reason: to get his job back.
“In the immediacy, we want to get myself reinstated to the student council,” Lack said. “There’s only two months left. In those two months, I can do a lot of good for my school.”
Lack said that he’s not sure what motivated the student council faculty adviser to force the council to drop the debate on the prom resolution.
“In the meeting, the teacher adviser was visibly uncomfortable when I brought it up. I can only speculate to what her motivation was. We were coming to a consensus and I think that’s why she shot it down.
“Beyond that, there’s a larger issue,” Lack continued. “If we don’t win this, schools have carte blanche to remove students when they have controversial viewpoints, even when that viewpoint is expressed in a meaningful and constructive way.”
Lack’s attorney, Radford, stressed that the facts and the law are on his client’s side.
“There’s a whole line of cases about First Amendment rights in schools,” Radford said. “Students retain their First Amendment rights so long as their speech is not substantially disruptive. The school cannot punish speech like that when it’s protected.”
“We’re on the right side of the law and the facts on this case. I think we will prevail,” Radford added. “I don’t know if we’re going to have to fight them until the bitter end or if they’ll be willing to work with us. I’m going to do whatever I can to get him reinstated.”
School district rejects Lack’s claims
Officials with Fulton County Public Schools, however, denied the claim that his removal was about the resolution, instead citing some 16 examples of how Lack failed as the student body president, none of which involved the resolution.
In a response included in Lack’s lawsuit, the district’s legal representative claimed that Lack failed in his role as student body president by canceling and rescheduling student council meetings with little or no notice, acting uncivilly and refusing to comply with direct instructions from the student council faculty advisers.
Evans, the executive director of communications for Fulton County Public Schools, also disputed Lack’s claims in an interview. Evans said that she personally believed that Lack was using the LGBT-friendly resolution as an excuse to sue to regain his position.
“After he was relieved from his post, all of a sudden this allegation came up. That’s why the rest of the students are frustrated. They know what he did and didn’t do. What a horrible, horrible thing to claim. We have enough issues around prejudice and biases,” Evans said.
“The other items wouldn’t be sufficient. It’s significant to mount a lawsuit and get people up and arms and angry about, as they should be, if it were true,” Evans continued.
Evans said she was unsure if the district will settle the case, but added that Fulton County Public Schools supports the school administration’s decision to remove Lack and will be prepared to defend itself in court.
AHS students react to lawsuit
Several Alpharetta High School students took to the internet to voice their thoughts on the lawsuit. Comments on social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook, as well as the website for The GA Voice, from AHS students paint a different picture of the situation.
“He is lazy but wants desperately to be a part of politics and news and so when he was removed months after bringing up the issue in the article, he used the ‘gay rights’ issue as a way to bring his lawsuit into the court of public opinion,” an AHS student wrote on the popular link sharing website Reddit in response to the story.
“Right now the student body is infuriated, he is dragging our school through the mud for his own vengeance,” the student continued. “He knows good and well that the media will fit this into the stereotype of ignorant and backwards southern schools.”
Some AHS students posted derogatory and anti-gay messages online. A Twitter hashtag, #ihopereubensbackpackgetsaflat, mocked Lack for using a “rolling backpack.”
The online taunts prompted Lack’s attorney to release a statement defending his client against allegations that he was lying about the reasons behind his removal.
“The story may have gotten too big, too fast, and I believe the students, faculty, and administration at Alpharetta High School have found themselves overwhelmed,” Radford said. “I know Reuben and his family have felt overwhelmed.”
Radford said he wants the public to know the facts behind the case before jumping to conclusions.
“After the administration issued an official statement – basically accusing Reuben of making this whole thing up — a number of people who were initially supportive began to doubt us,” Radford continued. “Worse yet, a number of students have made statements to the media, and on the web, that drag Reuben’s name through the mud and accuse him of lying.”
As of press time, no court dates been scheduled, though Lack’s attorney has requested an expedited hearing.
“We’ve asked the court for an immediate hearing. We haven’t gotten a date for that yet. We hope that it will be soon. Every day that passes is a day that he’s deprived of an honor that he’s earned,” Radford said.
Top photo: Alpharetta High School student Reuben Lack is suing his school over his removal as student body president. The change came after Lack proposed an LGBT-friendly prom resolution, his lawsuit alleges. (by Ryan Watkins)
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