Dual Itawamba proms could figure in court case

By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal

At least two prom-like events were held for Itawamba Agricultural High School students Friday night.
Senior Constance McMillen attended one. Most of her classmates attended the other.
The American Civil Liberties Union is questioning the motives behind the two events as it drafts its lawsuit seeking damages from the Itawamba County School District.
When Senior U.S. District Judge Glen H. Davidson ruled March 23 in a preliminary injunction hearing that the district had violated McMillen’s First Amendment rights, Davidson gave the ACLU a month to amend its suit and seek damages.
“We are disappointed at the sparse attendance (at the event McMillen attended), and we’re looking further into the situation,” said Kristy Bennett, legal director of the ACLU of Mississippi.
“Whatever we find will be brought to the court’s attention, whether it is in the damages trial, or whatever. There will still be a trial on the merits. The case didn’t end in the preliminary hearing.”
Itawamba School Board attorney Michele Floyd did not immediately return phone and e-mail messages seeking comment.
McMillen attended a privately sponsored school prom held at Fulton Country Club, an event to which she had been invited. She arrived at the dance an hour and a half after it began and stayed for about 30 minutes.
McMillen attended the dance with a female date, but it was not McMillen’s girlfriend, a sophomore at the school. McMillen said her girlfriend was not able to attend the dance because her parents wanted to protect her from media attention. McMillen wore a tuxedo to the dance.
McMillen said she saw six other students and several school officials while she was at the prom.
“It really hurt my feelings because I fought a lot for this,” McMillen said. “When I imagine prom, I don’t see seven students. I see my junior and senior class being there and being able to hang out with your friends on a special night. I was very disappointed.”
Meanwhile, many more IAHS students went to an event held at the community center in Evergreen, another community in Itawamba County. McMillen said she knew about that event but when she asked another student if she was invited, the student told her, “the prom is at the country club.”
“I took that as no,” McMillen said. “If I wasn’t wanted there, I wasn’t going to go.”
The IAHS prom came under scrutiny after the ACLU sent a letter to the Itawamba County School District on March 2 demanding that it change its rule forbidding same-sex dates at the IAHS prom. The letter said the district must allow McMillen to attend the dance with her girlfriend and to wear a tuxedo or it could face legal action.
Eight days later, the district announced it would not hold a prom, sparking an international story that landed McMillen on the CBS Early show, the Joy Behar show and the Ellen Degeneres show, among others.
At a hearing on a preliminary injunction filed by the ACLU, Davidson ruled that the district shouldn’t be forced to sponsor a prom since a group of parents had already agreed to hold an event that would be “open to all IAHS students.”
On Monday night of last week, those parents announced they would no longer host that prom. On Tuesday afternoon, Floyd said a private prom would be held at the Fulton Country Club, although the exact sponsorship of that event remains unclear.

Contact Chris Kieffer at (662) 678-1590 or chris.kieffer@djournal.com.

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