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School Officials Defend Canceling Mississippi Prom; Constance McMillen Speaks in Court

School Officials Defend Canceling Mississippi Prom; Constance McMillen Speaks in Court

Mississippi school officials defended their decision in court Monday to cancel the high school prom saying that there were issues with the event even before Constance McMillen requested to bring her girlfriend. The 18-year-old lesbian student challenged the district's policy against same-sex dates after she wanted to bring her girlfriend to the school prom. "There were so many dirty looks." McMillen testified. The school claimed concerns about possible use of alcohol and drugs at the prom.

Itawamba County school officials defended their decision Monday to cancel the high school prom saying that there were issues with the event even before Constance McMillen requested to bring her girlfriend.

The 18-year-old lesbian student challenged the district's policy against same-sex dates after she wanted to bring her girlfriend to the school prom and wear a tux.

USA Today reports that in federal court Monday, school board chairman Eddie Hood said the debate over the Itawamba County Agricultural High School senior's requests for the April 2 dance was causing too much of a distraction.

"We want to have school. We are in the business of school and education our children," Hood said. "We want to move on."

Violating her rights to freedom of expression, the American Civil Liberties Union asked U.S. District Court Judge Glen Davidson to reverse the school board's decision and reinstate the April 2 dance at the school.

In court, McMillen testified that she peacefully worked her request up the district chain of command, but her requests were denied.

"I went to them hoping that I could talk to them," she said. "I was hoping they would understand how it made me feel."

The Washington Post reported that the school's Superintendent Teresa McNeece that she had discussed not sponsoring the prom even before McMillen challenged the boy/girl rule. McNeece said she had concerns about liability problems, including possible use of alcohol and drugs.

But they also claimed they called off the prom because McMillen's challenge to the rules had caused disruptions.

"We were being hounded every day. Our students were being hounded," McNeece said. "We were having a tough time of any bell-to-bell instruction."

ACLU attorney Kristy Bennett said in court Monday that the district violated McMillen's First Amendment rights and that it was the decision to cancel the prom - not McMillen's request to bring her girlfriend - that caused the disruptions school officials described.

"Any disruption came after the actual cancellation of the prom," Bennett said.

The district "shouldn't be able to censor Ms. McMillen's speech simply by canceling the prom," Bennett said in closing arguments.

"There were so many dirty looks. A lot of people didn't like me very much," McMillen testified of her fellow students after the district cancelled the prom.

The 715-student high school is located in Fulton, a town of about 4,000 in rural north Mississippi. Some parents of students have scheduled a private dance at a furniture market in the nearby town of Tupelo.

Judge Davidson did not say when he would rule, but said he wants to do it quickly because "time is of the essence."

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