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Wednesday, December 6, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Wednesday, December 6, 2023 | Back issues
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Yanked Student Body President|Gives His High School a Lesson

ATLANTA (CN) - The student body president claims in court that Alpharetta High School stripped him of his office because he asked the Student Council to change the title of "Prom King and Queen" to "Prom Court," "so that a same-sex couple could be elected," if students voted for them.

Reuben Lack sued the Fulton County School District, Alpharetta High School principal Shannon Kersey, and AHS Student Council advisers Emily Reiser and Michelle Were, in Federal Court.

Lack is a senior. He was elected in April 2011 as student body president for the 2011-12 academic year.

"At the January 12, 2012, meeting of the student council, Lack introduced a resolution to modify AHS's 'Prom King and Queen' tradition to make it inclusive to gay and lesbian students. Lack suggested a number of options, including changing the tradition simply to 'Prom Court' so that a same-sex couple could be elected," the complaint states.

"Lack followed parliamentary procedure regarding the resolution, opening the floor to student debate about the issue. An extended debate about the issue occurred among the students. Werre, who was present as faculty advisor, interrupted the debate, and demanded that the topic be dropped. She instructed the students to cease discussing the topic, and dictated that the resolution would not be adopted, without any formal vote.

"At the following meeting of January 26, 2012, Lack again introduced the resolution to modify the 'Prom King and Queen' tradition to make it more inclusive to gay and lesbian students. Werre again expressed great dissatisfaction and attempted to require a formal vote on the measure without further debate. Lack moved to table the resolution in order to prevent a vote rejecting the measure without proper debate and discussion."

In the next week, Lack says, he exchanged private, off-campus emails with a fellow student, in which Lack says he "expressed frustration that Kersey had 'shot down' a proposal made by Lack to organize a conference for leaders of various student organizations at AHS."

And that was it for him, Lack says.

"On February 8, 2012, Reiser and Werre called Lack into a meeting and informed him that he was immediately removed as student body president," the complaint states.

"Reiser and Werre informed Lack he was being removed for 'pushing personal projects' and advocating for 'policy changes,' which was a reference to Lack's advocacy to modify the 'Prom King and Queen' tradition to make it more inclusive to gay and lesbian students.

"Reiser and Werre further informed Lack that he was being removed for 'attacking the principal,' which was a reference to his private, off-campus email exchange with [his fellow student]. Neither in the exchange with [his fellow student], nor in any other forum, did Lack in any way 'attack' Principal Kersey or any other person.

"Reiser and Were further informed Lack that he was being removed for a speech he gave to incoming freshmen, in which he encouraged students to participate on the debate team, which apparently Reiser and Werre did not favor.

"Reiser and Werre asserted a number of additional reasons for Lack's removal, all of which were knowingly false. These reasons included a lack of accomplishments and not attending meetings. 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.

"Lack, his family, and counsel have met with Kersey and sent correspondence urging his reinstatement as student body president. However, Kersey has refused to reinstate him and has enforced the decision to remove him as student body president. ...

"The removal of Lack as student body president has caused him great emotional distress, has deprived him of an honor he worked hard to achieve, has threatened his admission to the college of his choice, has deprived him of the right to address the student body at graduation, and has caused additional harm to be proven at trial."

Lack adds this his "tenure as president was marked by an exceptional level of service and accomplishment. For example, Lack authored, and gained approval for, the first set of bylaws for the student council. ... Lack attended meetings of the Fulton County Commissioners as a student ambassador, and received an 'Incredible Dedication Award' from the Board of Commissioners for his advocacy on behalf of youth issues. Lack lobbied for, and achieved, a change in school policy regarding charging students for napkins and utensils in the school cafeteria. Lack moderated a public debate between candidates for mayor of Alpharetta. Lack led initiatives to install bike racks at AHS and to increase the energy efficiency of AHS facilities, among other initiatives.

"Lack has also maintained excellent grades in his classes, and he serves as the captain of the AHS debate team."

He claims his removal from office had "no legitimate education[al] purpose" and had "a chilling effect upon student expression in general."

He seeks reinstatement to office, costs, damages for constitutional violations and emotional distress, and punitive damages "due to the intentional and outrageous nature of their actions".He is represented by James Radford, of Decatur.

The complaint does not elucidate how the school allegedly got access to Lack's private email.

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