Fla. school plans photo policy change after yearbook flap

FLORIDA — A Fleming Island High School graduate whose yearbook photo was banned because it featured her in a tuxedo expects to settle the dispute with the district after her lawyer demanded that the district change its policies.

In October 2004, Fleming Island Principal Sam Ward banned the photo of Kelli Davis sporting a tuxedo because he said it broke a tradition of female students wearing black drapes and male students wearing tuxedo jackets and bow ties in senior photos. Davis’ classmate, Kari Sewell, was later fired from her position as the yearbook editor for opposing Ward’s decision.

In February, Superintendent David Owens supported Ward’s decision at a Clay County School Board meeting. The yearbook was distributed to Fleming Island students in May without Davis’ photo in the Senior Class section.

“My name wasn’t even on the ‘not pictured’ page,” Davis said. “I was totally excluded from the senior class like I don’t even exist.”

Davis’ parents paid for a $700 two-page advertisement featuring the tuxedo photo.

Karen Doering, a lawyer from the National Center for Lesbian Rights who is representing Davis, said she sent a letter to the school saying they planned to file a lawsuit unless the district contacted her. In late May the district asked Doering not to file the suit, she said.

“Hopefully we’ll be able to resolve it without litigation,” Doering said. “We told them that one of the things that would definitely have to happen is that there would have to be a change in policy in order for us to resolve the suit.”

Davis, who will attend the University of Tampa in August, said she decided to take action after realizing the district was not going to deal with the issue.

“I’m not just going to sit down and let them make decisions like they did,” she said. “I feel like I’ve been discriminated against and I’m not gonna let it lie.”

Doering plans to speak with district officials in July and hopes the case will help the school administrators understand they do not need to stereotype students.

“They can still have professional yearbook images without forcing the female students to show a little skin,” she said.

Owens did not return calls for comment.

An MTV documentary of Davis’ story is scheduled to air on the network in the fall.

–Mike Hart

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