Reports are circulating across the internet that the Itawamba School District officials in Mississippi, who denied lesbian student Constance McMillen the right to attend prom in a tuxedo and with a same-sex partner, conspired with parents to set up a fake prom for Constance while secretly holding a prom in another location for other students.
Yes, folks, you read that correctly. It appears that a school district may have been so desperate to keep a lesbian student from attending the prom, not only did they cancel the prom, but after US District Court Judge Glen H. Davidson found the school violated Constance's rights, they created a secret prom to again deny Constance the right to attend.
Here's the background... Constance McMillen is a Senior at Itawamba Agricultural High School near Fulton, Mississippi. During the 2009-10 school year, she sought permission from the school to attend the prom with a female date and also to wear a tuxedo. The school denied the request.
McMillen, aided by the ACLU, sued the Itawamba School District in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi. While denying the ACLU's request for a preliminary injunction against the school in order for the prom to be held, Judge Glen H. Davidson clearly ruled (PDF) that the ISD had violated Constance's First Amendment rights to free expression.
During testimony, school officials stated that an alternative prom would be held and open to all students. This is from page 11 of Judge Davidson's ruling (emphasis is HIS, not mine):
Defendants testified that a parent-sponsored prom which is open to all IAHS students has been planned and is scheduled for April 2, 2010. Though the details of the "private" prom are unknown to the Court, Defendants have made representations, upon which this Court relies, that all IAHS students, including the Plaintiff, are welcome and encouraged to attend. The Court finds that requiring Defendants to step-back into a sponsorship role at this late date would only confuse and confound the community on the issue. Parents have taken the initiative to plan and pay for a "private" prom for the Juniors and Seniors of IAHS and to now require Defendants to host one as it had originally planned would defeat the purpose and efforts of those individuals.
Let me reiterate --- "Defendants have made representations, upon which this Court relies, that all IAHS students, including the Plaintiff, are welcome and encouraged to attend."
Suddenly, less than a week before the April 2 prom, the parent sponsors abruptly canceled the event:
The Itawamba Agricultural High School’s parent-sponsored prom is back on, and it will now be held at the Fulton Country Club, the club’s manager said.
Fulton Country Club manager Stanley Ramey said that the event would be held at the club Friday night.
It had originally been set for the Tupelo Furniture Market but was canceled Monday night, multiple parents confirmed. Parents would not confirm for the Daily Journal or Itawamba County Times why the event was first cancelled.
Lori Byrd, who served on the parent organizing committee that planned the canceled event, told The Clarion-Ledger newspaper it was called off because, "there are a lot of people involved and they don’t want to get sued."
Now, let the disgust begin...
Reports began circulating over the weekend that the "country club" held prom was actually a hoax. From The Advocate:
The prom that McMillen and her date attended on Friday, held at a country club in Fulton, Miss., was sparsely attended, according to Chris Hampton of the American Civil Liberties Union.
"We don’t know whether it was a fake prom or not; McMillen and her date got there and most of the people chaperoning the prom appeared to be school staff and there were only seven other students from her school there," Hampton says. "We’ve heard rumors [that another prom was being held at another location] but we’re trying to find out."
This is from the Facebook group formed for support of Constance's endeavor:
On Friday night, Constance and her date went to the prom the school had said would be held for all IAHS juniors and seniors, only to find an event that was very sparsely attended, as detailed in this blogger's account. Constance tried to make the best of it and had a nice evening with the other students from her school...l who attended, but is of course disappointed that so few of her classmates were there.
Unfortunately Fortunately, the website which housed the initial source for these allegations has "crashed" been restored this afternoon.
Here’s the news, from a source I view as extremely reliable. The prom the school district promised at the country club in Fulton was a ruse. Only seven kids, Constance, and her date showed, and at the same time, everyone else held a "real" prom at a secret location out in the county.
This is all after the school district had represented to Judge Davidson that Constance was invited to a parent-sponsored prom to be held at Tupelo Furniture Market. The school represented that Constance was invited in court filings, testimony, and representations by the school district and its lawyers. In reality, Constance had not been invited, but, based on the representations by the district and its counsel, Judge Davidson denied Constance’s request for a preliminary injunction that she could go to the prom.
But what they’d done was secretly relocated it.
Shortly thereafter, the school’s attorney announced (on Wednesday) that "the prom" was to be held at the Fulton Country Club on Friday. But yet only seven kids showed up.
Meanwhile, there’s a rumor that school officials were directly involved in setting up the "fake" prom.
However, others looking into this have found dozens of pictures from the "secret" prom on Facebook pages of IAHS students.
UPDATE: A tipster tracked down one of McMillen's classmate's Facebook profiles, and she had lots of nice prom photos uploaded yesterday. So that would fit with the timeline. And there are more than five folks in the photos, so we're guessing that means they weren't the group that went to Constance's prom (the person's "I LOVE Jesus!" bit on her profile doesn't help the case). So who knows. We're not going to give you her name, because, well, she's a high school student.
If these allegations are true, then I hope the ACLU will bankrupt the school district, seek contempt of court charges against school officials, and teach those folks down in Mississippi that if you want to violate the law and others' civil rights in Jesus's Name, then you have must pay the price.
Update #1 from local newspaper Daily Journal:
Constance McMillen did attend her school’s prom Friday night, although many of her classmates partied at an alternate event in Itawamba County.
McMillen went to the Itawamba Agricultural High School prom at the Fulton Country Club, but she was one of the few to attend the event. McMillen said there were seven students at the dance while she was there.
Meanwhile, many more Itawamba AHS students went to an event held at the community center in Evergreen, another community in Itawamba County. McMillen did not know the details about the event in Evergreen, according to Chris Hampton of the ACLU’s Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Project.
Update #2 (thanks to mississippi boatrat): Via The Advocate
Two students with learning difficulties were among the seven people at the country club event, McMillen recalls. "They had the time of their lives," McMillen says. "That's the one good thing that come out of this, [these kids] didn't have to worry about people making fun of them [at their prom]."
To avoid Constance McMillen bringing a female date to her prom, the teen was sent to a "fake prom" while the rest of her class partied at a secret location at an event organized by parents.
McMillen tells The Advocate that a parent-organized prom happened behind her back — she and her date were sent to a Friday night event at a country club in Fulton, Miss., that attracted only five other students. Her school principal and teachers served as chaperones, but clearly there wasn't much to keep an eye on.
"They had two proms and I was only invited to one of them," McMillen says. "The one that I went to had seven people there, and everyone went to the other one I wasn’t invited to."