Yearbook portrait policy changed, principal still has final say

FLORIDA The Clay County School Board agreed to change its portrait policy for high school seniors last week after reaching an out-of-court settlement with a former student.

Kelli Davis’ senior photo was removed by school administrators from Fleming Island High School’s yearbook last year when she chose to wear a tuxedo instead of the traditional drape required for female students.

“I hope the new policies will help the faculty understand it’s their responsibility to intervene when kids are being picked on because they’re gay or because they don’t meet society’s stereotype of how they are supposed to look or act,” Davis said in a press release from the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

The NCLR filed a complaint to the school board on Davis’ behalf in May 2005 threatening legal action if the policy was not amended.

School board officials asked to settle out of court and an agreement was reached in which the senior portrait policy was changed and sexual orientation was added to the school district’s non-discrimination policy for teachers and students.

Unfortunately for Fleming Island’s yearbook staff, the settlement does not contain provisions preventing administrators from having the final say on what photos are appropriate. The settlement says, “The principal may establish dress codes for senior portraits.” The decision of what photos appear in the yearbook remains in the principal’s hands.

Kari Sewell, last year’s yearbook editor, was fired in February after she refused to remove Davis’ portrait from the publication. Sewell was not reinstated as editor.

But Davis said she’s just happy the “ordeal” is over.

“I am very pleased with the results because I now know that no one else will have to go through what I did,” she said of the policy change in an e-mail.

She said she was surprised the case was settled out of court.

“I really didn’t think mediation was going to be successful going in to it,” said Davis, now a freshman at the University of South Florida. “I thought we would end up in court. To my surprise, they were willing to work with me. I guess they really didn’t want to spend the time or money going through the court system.”

Karen Doering, regional counsel for the NCLR and Davis’ attorney, said that what started out as a senior portrait issue turned up deeper problems regarding the treatment of gay and lesbian students at Fleming Island.

The NCLR’s goal extended beyond the portrait problem to helping Clay County Schools become a place where all students felt safe, she said.

The settlement includes language that requires non-discrimination training for faculty and staff and provides diversity training that includes sexual orientation for junior high and high school students, Doering said.

For portraits, the principal can still set a dress code, but will honor “reasonable requests” for exceptions.

Doering said requests like Davis’, who does not wear typical “girly” clothes, will be honored in the future, but that if “the football team wants to wear the drapes just to disrupt the yearbook” the principal has every right to say no.

“It’s a win-win situation,” Doering said, adding that implementing this policy will help Clay County avoid future lawsuits and make sure no one goes through a situation like Davis did.

by Clay Gaynor, SPLC staff writer

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