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25 March 2012

Praise: Rueben Lack on Gender Neutral Prom

Alpharetta High School is located in the suburbs North of Atlanta, part of the Fulton County School District.  Students elected Reuben Lack to be their Student Body President, a position he held until early February of this year.  As the video from Channel 11 indicates, Mr. Lack believes that he was removed from his position for advocating greater equality, specifically gender neutral titles for the positions traditionally known as the Prom King and Prom Queen, at school functions.

The school district is disputing Mr. Lack's account of what happened in a letter from Samantha Evans.
"We’ve taken a look at what the individual is alleging and it’s just not the case. The district is confident that as the details surface through the legal process they will support that. The principal and teachers at Alpharetta High were very careful to take great care and be fair to all students involved when making the leadership change for this student body position," Evans said in her statement for the school system.
Courthouse News offers a timeline and description of the events, according to the legal complaint Mr. Lack filed, that led to Mr. Lack's removal from student leadership.
     "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 [Alpharetta High School Principal] 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.
I have never known as student to be removed from a student leadership position for anything short of being caught cheating in school or convicted of a crime outside of school.  The response from the school claims, in part, that Mr. Lack "underperformed or acted improperly in several areas, including, but not limited to, refusing to comply with the direct instructions of the teachers who served as faculty advisors on several occasions; issues with incivility; admittedly taking advantage of his position; presenting ideas and projects to administration and advisors and failing to follow up on the needed steps to implement these ideas and projects; misrepresenting his progress on projects; cancelling and rescheduling meetings that were inconvenient to him, sometimes with little notice; and not participating in all of the activities of student government."

Without being in the meetings, one cannot know what happened.  But the response does not jibe with the complaint.  The Courthouse News article indicates that Mr. Lack was serving as the Captain of the Debate Team and doing well in his classes.  He presents himself well in the video.  The Principal and School District are not talking with the media so we have a limited picture of what happened.  My gut inclination is to distrust the school's response.

What I can do is cheer Mr. Lack's attempt to push for greater equality in his school.  Alpharetta has a reputation of being a relatively liberal part of the Atlanta suburbs (relatively is a key word ... it is still quite conservative by Boston or San Francisco standards), so this is a significant effort on his part.  I wish Mr. Lack the best in his future.

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