Two students at Alexandria High School in Alabama were given in-school suspension for participating in a same-sex prom proposal. The school has since claimed that the discipline was related to breaking a rule against public “promposals,” though one of the student’s moms claims there were some mixed messages.
Janizia Ross was the student who was suspended for asking her girlfriend to prom during a talent show Tuesday. She had sought permission in advance, and a teacher even agreed to hold onto her rainbow-colored “PROM?” sign so that it would be a surprise. According to Ross’ mom, Jeanise Ross-Walton, that permission was later revoked, but the student running the talent show never got the memo. When she called Ross on-stage, Ross went ahead with the promposal, she and her girlfriend hugged, but then both she and the master of ceremonies were disciplined for it. According to Ross-Walton, her daughter was punished for being “rebellious.”
Speaking to the Anniston Star, Principal Mack Holley confirmed that the school was responding to “an act of rebelliousness,” insisting that no such proposals were allowed during school events. As proof, he claimed to have previously banned a marriage proposal at the school too. But AL.com spoke with Hunter Borders, the former student who proposed marriage to a female student during a 2013 talent show. He said he was similarly told not to do it, but when he did it anyway, he was not disciplined. “It was simple, there was nothing inappropriate,” Borders said. “It was just part of the performance. I received no punishment for it.”
The Calhoun County Board of Education issued a statement Thursday claiming that various reports “may have created a misimpression regarding the school’s rationale in responding to the situation in question.” It offered no particularly clarity to compensate, however.
Several students walked out of the school Thursday in protest. During the morning announcements, a statement was reportedly read apologizing to anyone who was offended by the incident and assuring that Alexandria High School is a “Christian school.” Alexandria is a public school.
Some students have also threatened to boycott prom on March 10, with several asking for a refund for the tickets they’d already purchased. Holley could not confirm whether the girls would be allowed to attend the prom, but clarified that the school can’t ban them from attending just for being a same-sex couple. “We can’t do that,” he said. “It’s probably against the law.”
Indeed, over the past decade, many students have successfully legally challenged their schools’ attempts to ban them from taking a same-sex date to prom. Groups like the ACLU and Lambda Legal actually offer guidance specifically regarding “prom night rights.” It was way back in 1980 that a federal court first upheld the right of a male student to take his male date to the prom, rejecting arguments that preventing them from attending was for their own safety. More recently, a Mississippi student, Constance McMillen, also successfully challenged her school in 2009 after it would not let her wear a tux and take her girlfriend to prom.
Many cases now don’t even go to court, as a legal threat is often sufficient to convince schools to backtrack their discriminatory decisions.