Federal judge: Gay-friendly prom idea was not reason for ouster of Alpharetta High president

The deposed Alpharetta High student body president had his first day in court and lost.

According to the AJC:

A federal judge Friday ruled against an Alpharetta High School senior who claims he was ousted as student body president for pushing to make the school’s prom king and queen selection more inclusive to gay and lesbian students.

Reuben Lack, an honor student and debate team captain, filed a federal lawsuit that alleges his removal as president violated his rights of free speech and expression. In a 12-page order, U.S. District Judge Richard Story denied Lack’s request to be reinstated as student body president. The judge commended Lack for championing the inclusion of all students in school activities and his “zeal to change policy.” Story also expressed concern over the timing of Lack’s removal — a month after his prom idea became an issue.

But Story said he found evidence supporting a conclusion that Lack was removed for other reasons. These include his failure to send an email about a class president’s meeting after being told to do so by advisers and his failure to attend the meeting the next day.

“Essentially, the court finds that [Lack] is a bright student who ‘aggressively’ engaged in his causes … but he did not show respect or civility to his faculty advisers or complete traditional student council ’spirit’ tasks, which, under the bylaws, he had an obligation to help carry out, regardless of his interest level,” Story wrote.

On Friday, Lack’s lawyer, James Radford, said he had asked for immediate reinstatement before he could take testimony of all those involved, which he will do next in the ongoing litigation. “We look forward to continuing the fight,” he said.

Lack seeks damages against the Fulton County school system, Alpharetta High’s principal and two student advisers. The suit said the incident caused Lack “great emotional distress,” deprived him of an honor he worked hard to achieve, threatened his admission to the college of his choice and denied him the right to address students at graduation.

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

23 comments Add your comment

Atlanta Mom

March 30th, 2012
8:01 pm

Mr. Lack’s removal as student body president did not threatened his admission to the college of his choice. His lawsuit certainly has.

Norman D

March 30th, 2012
8:22 pm

Atlanta hick-yes, it has greatly increased his choices of colleges-colleges love equality and justice-its kind of American…

Jayne

March 30th, 2012
8:26 pm

Lack wants to scream “discrimination” when his action had consequences. I would hope he would learn his lesson but doubt it. All he is learning is how to be a victim.

Bob Rock

March 30th, 2012
8:29 pm

Interesting how he may have used the whole “gay” thing as sympathy for his case.

William Casey

March 30th, 2012
8:36 pm

High school student governments are a total waste of time at most schools.

It's Still a Good Day

March 30th, 2012
10:28 pm

I think he may look back on this as a positive experience becuase he stood up for himself. I am proud of him as I am sure are his parents. This experience is good for him whether or not it brought justice.
GM

DocumentsGuy

March 30th, 2012
11:57 pm

See page 6 and 7 of the decision. Judge Story held that the prom issue and facebook conversation, both protected areas of speech, WERE major parts of their decision to remove him. The Judge just had to accept the teachers’ declarations at face value at a *TRO* hearing (a shortened hearing), which is why on the last standard he lost.

This is actually a huge blow against the school. With more examination of the school’s claims, they could lose further down the road.

Sandy Springs Parent

March 31st, 2012
12:30 am

I believe it will be uncovered that alot more of these principals were just like Eddie Echols, with their little Enterprises and illegal activities going on. So much for being a top school, when you have principals who embezzal, lie, and commit idenity fraud. What else will they do in Fulton County.

Mirva

March 31st, 2012
2:20 am

Enter your comments here

Mirva

March 31st, 2012
2:32 am

Maureen, I an nornally very pleased with how you moniter this blog. But the comments from Sandy Springs Parent must be removed. This is not a forum for people to call out principals and teachers by name or by factors whereby they would be recognized. We all get that she is very unhappy with her experience at her school, but this poster has used this forum to call out specific teachers if not by name then by identifing characteristics such as race and accents. It smacks of racism and could potentially open her to libel. Everyone at the school knows who the poster is, she has made such a spectical of herself. For the record, I worked for Eddie Echols and he was and is a fine and honorable man who dedicacated years of his.life to the school and the kids.

Lena Dolder

March 31st, 2012
3:34 am

He won’t win any money from this. He will graduate and will have lost his chance to be class president. The judge has sent his homophobic hateful message to the students of GA, which is no doubt well-received here in one of the most ignorant, uneducated States in the Union. I can’t wait to get out of here.

Beverly Fraud

March 31st, 2012
6:45 am

The judge isn’t implying a lack of judgment, is he?

Groan…

Two Cents

March 31st, 2012
7:22 am

The problem with Sandy Springs above is that she most likely has more money and time on her hands than she knows what to do with and instead of showing a little compassion and humbleness finds it much easier to throw out more garbage totally unrelated to the subject of the blog. This subject will continue through the courts and at least the message is getting out – not all students are being accepted for who they are and like it or not, they are human also and only want to be accepted for who they are. They too are someone’s child. I get tired of these high rent district people thinking they are better than everyone else. They put their pants on the same as the rest of us – one leg at a time. And pity their kids who will grow up not accepting others and realizing that indeed God created all of us. Come off your self made pedestal Sandy Springs.

AHSkid

March 31st, 2012
8:43 am

I feel validated (as do most the students at AHS). And I also feel bad for Reuben, who will most likely attempt to push this case, even though it’s clear his claim for “emotional damages” has no merit. He started the lawsuit, he brought the “emotional damages” upon himself. Maybe him and his lawyers will take a step back and realize that they were actually at fault, as Reuben didn’t follow through with stuco activities, “unilaterally changed meeting times,” ignored students’ concerns that he was running stuco like a “dictatorship,” and was disrespectful to the teachers.

I can’t wait for the students named in the lawsuit and the teachers to counter sue.

I'm a teacher

March 31st, 2012
11:04 am

This is typical of how teenagers now days think – Mr Lack has focused on the one issue of Prom and ignored all the other issues of his presidency. Students copy each others homework without doing the work themselves, go through the motions during labs without really paying attention to what is happening (and copying the answers on the lab questions) they don’t really pay attention during lecture/notes then accuse the teacher of not teaching when they fail the test. The world is not 30 second sound bites it it the hours, months, and sometimes years that lead up to the 30 seconds – that is the point they are missing.

Larry

March 31st, 2012
11:25 am

first of all, i was at the tro hearing and what many seem to misunderstand about this case is that it is about protected free speech, not the prom issue. and reuben was NOT focusing on the prom issue at the expense of other responsibilities. that was the issue that the school’s administration was upset about and made them decide to get rid of reuben.

unless you’ve met reuben and understand what motivates him, i think people need to quit posting theories about what he was thinking. he’s a very smart and serious kid that ran for the student council president position to bring about positive change at alpharetta high school. he wasn’t a “spirit” student council president that many may have expected. and he did make some positive changes. people act like he was appointed and they had no idea what they were getting. reuben ran for the office and was democratically elected on a known platform. and he wanted the prom issue to be handled democratically by the student council, but the school’s principal wasn’t in agreement with that idea.

finally, the judge was VERY impressed with reuben and made the point of telling him so at the end of the hearing. unfortunately, the judge had to go by unsworn statements submitted by the school district at 1 am and reuben’s attorney couldn’t cross-examine the principal or the faculty advisers (even though they were in the courtroom). if this case goes to trial, i think you will find that the outcome is much different than what you are assuming today.

in my opinion, reuben was removed because the administration was tired of dealing with a student that wouldn’t succumb to their attempts to “redirect” him at will. he stood up for himself and they didn’t like it. good for him.

AHSkid

March 31st, 2012
1:47 pm

“in my opinion, reuben was removed because the administration was tired of dealing with a student that wouldn’t succumb to their attempts to “redirect” him at will. he stood up for himself and they didn’t like it. good for him.”

@ Larry- so in your opinion, students shouldn’t obey or be respectful teachers? Last time I checked, students should learn to adhere to school rules and be respectful to his elders– including the teachers and administration. I do know him- he’s super condescending and thinks he’s better than everyone else. Even most of the people on his own debate team believe it (look at his debate partner’s testimony for example, as well as facebook and twitter posts).

The court ruled that his speech was protected- which also demonstrates that he had an opportunity to speak (which he did at the stuco meetings, the one at the beginning of the year, etc). However, the court rightfully ruled that he was ousted for other reasons– not simply freedom of speech infringements.

Ole Guy

March 31st, 2012
2:00 pm

While Lack MAY have been remiss in his duties as Class President, one somehow feels that there just MAY be a little judicial “fishing” here. What, exactly, is the outcome on this issue? Has the path been established to allow a degree of tolerance, regarding “non-standard sexual orientation”, at the prom?

Let’s not allow Lack’s views to be clouded by extraneous issues.

AConcernedAHSParent

April 1st, 2012
12:59 am

@DocumentsGuy. From your recent posting, I can see you really did a lot research and follow this suit very closely. It’s good to see different point of view especially your analysis is based on DOCUMENTS.

Here is the conclusion from Judge Story’s order which was loaded to scribd by Reuben.

“While the Plaintiff engaged in protected speech which was a motivatingfactor in the Plaintiff’s removal, the Court finds that Plaintiff has not shown asubstantial likelihood of success on the merits because the Defendants have presented sufficient evidence that they would have made the same decision toremove him even in the absence of the protected speech. Plaintiffs’ Motions for TRO [2, 9] are therefore DENIED.”

To me, this means Plaintiff engaged in protected speech which was JUST ONE motivatingfactor in the Plaintiff’s removal. AHS would have made the same decision to remove him even in the absence of the protected speech. I definitely know this lawsuite is over, but I think this is most AHS teachers, parents and students want to see.

mark morgan

April 1st, 2012
8:42 am

hea’ a stright —- i mean a prom is a life time memory that dear to the heart the first kiss the long dance the last time you see your class mate. and then you see two girl kissing or class voted a guy king and a guy queen.now its all mix up prom.how about two prom that way the stright prom and a gay prom will last for ever in your heart. not getting beat up like all yr or name calling not all that bad stuff.u would’t make the boy room and the girl room in to one bathrm.think about it??

AHS Parent

April 1st, 2012
10:17 pm

I, too, attended the TRO hearing. I was alerted in advance by a family member present that they did not expect to with the TRO given that they were given only one hour to both put on evidence (Reuben on the stand and cross examined) and argue the law before the judge. So, it was clear that the goal for Reuben’s lawyer was simply to prove that the First Amendment violations were a factor in his removal.

What I witnessed in the hearing (which only one reporter was present and no one from the AJC was there) was that Judge Richard Story, after hearing only one witness take the oath and subject himself to cross examination, stated:

“Mr. Lack, we need more students like you… I thank you for what you did as Student Body President” – Had any of you actually been in the courtroom, you would have agreed. So far, there is NO other sworn evidence in this case but Reuben’s.

The Judge ruled that Reuben’s Constitutional Rights WERE violated.

The Judge ruled that Shannon Kersey, Michelle Werre, and Emily Reiser violated a Reuben’s rights by using a private Facebook conversation as the basis for his removal.

The Judge ruled that Shannon Kersey, Michelle Werre, and Emily Reiser violated a Reuben’s rights by punishing him for pushing a series of LGBT friendly prom resolutions

What Reuben’s lawyer was unable to do was question the principal, teachers or the student who gave that Facebook conversation to Kersey (who was also in the courtroom for some reason along with a student who was suspended from the student council). It is clear after reading the documents that the defense will not have a chance if this matter gets to a jury. Seriously, given all the accomplishments that the judge ruled that Reuben did accomplish, do you really think that the fact that Reuben did not dress up on Tacky day or was unable to get to the school to put up two posters was the basis for removal? Remember, the council has a policy of suspensions first. This practice was used against other students for their lack of attendance, yet, Reuben was summarily removed after the two First Amendment violations and ten months on the job. The judge gave the defense the benefit of the doubt and accepted unsworn affidavits as fact for this phase of the legal process. The next steps, they will not be so fortunate. I think it is a disgrace to have such a Principal employed in a high school let alone any place of learning. When a Federal Judge tells you that you violated a student’s First Amendment rights by using a private off-campus conversation as the basis for punishment, you should start packing your stuff! GO REUBEN! You are doing the right thing!

Larry

April 2nd, 2012
4:30 pm

@AHSkid: i never said “students shouldn’t obey or be respectful of teachers”. my point is that we live in a somewhat free society and just because a teacher tells you to do something, doesn’t mean you have to do it. using the old adage “would you jump off a bridge if someone told you to?” a student adviser is just that “an adviser”. your student council has by-laws written by reuben and approved by the student council and the administration right? so why was he removed without due process? my understanding is that someone can ONLY be removed by the administration for a serious infraction involving committing a crime, etc. reuben should have been put through a process that involved the student council deciding his fate.

I’ve only met reuben once, so i can’t say whether he is condescending or not. i can tell he’s very smart and a good debater. and as far as “his debate partner’s testimony”, any comments made were not made under oath. so they can say anything they want.

and your last paragraph shows you clearly don’t understand what the TRO hearing was about and the legal machinations this lawsuit entails.

AHS Parent

April 3rd, 2012
10:42 am

To be clear, the judge made it clear that the school could use any excuse that a reasonable person would NOT think would be a valid reason for removal (like not dressing up on Tacky Day) and as long as they believed he should be removed, it would be acceptable. As such, the Judge noted that Reuben was NOT a poor leader but in fact was a very good leader and that the school used some very petty reasons in their list.

Students who complained about meetings should have looked at the document they signed before they started serving on the council. That document told them that the meetings would be run using Roberts Rules of Order. Reuben wasn’t being dictatorial. He simply understood the process better than anyone else. Any kid could have raised his or her hand and called for a discussion to be ended, have it seconded, have that agreed upon by the majority in the room, and that would have been it. But apparently, even kids who think they are leaders are not responsible enough to read what they sign and understand what it means. They prefer to simply complain about those who do. Good luck in college with that attitude.