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VOL. 123 | NO. 88 | Monday, May 5, 2008

MCS Goes on Defensive in ACLU Claim

By Bill Dries

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Memphis City Schools officials have defended the actions of a high school principal who kept a list of student couples on campus and called the mothers of two male students who were unaware their sons were a couple.

The American Civil Liberties Union Foundation represents the teenagers legally. ACLU attorneys had been talking privately with attorneys for the school system for months until the talks broke down recently.

The ACLU went public last week with a letter to city schools board members that set a Friday deadline for school officials to respond. The ACLU is calling for the schools system to apologize to the two students, pay them for any harm they've suffered from being outed and discipline the principal, Daphne Beasley.

"If we are unable to resolve this matter informally in the very near future, we will have no choice but to pursue other legal action," read the April 29 letter to the school board from Christine P. Sun, senior staff attorney for the ACLU's Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Project.

The teens are students at Hollis F. Price Middle College, which is on the campus of LeMoyne-Owen College.

When the school year began this fall, Beasley claims she received complaints from college faculty and staff "that some of our student couples were involved in explicit sexual behavior in public view" on the campus, according to Thursday's statement from Memphis City Schools associate general counsel Van D. Turner Jr.

Beasley told students that such behavior wouldn't be tolerated.

"Regrettably, the improper behavior continued," Turner said in his written statement.

That's when Beasley began calling parents of students she had listed as couples. That's where the competing versions part company.

The parents of the boys claim Beasley made an intercom announcement demanding the names of all student couples "hetero or homo" and posted the list in her office.

The school system claims Beasley kept a "personal call list" but that it was never posted publicly anywhere in the school and did not include any student's sexual orientation.

"The principal felt it appropriate to notify the parents of those children she knew to be involved romantically," Turner said. "This was done in an effort to gain the support of the parents in reinforcing the message that such (explicit sexual) behavior is in violation of Memphis City Schools' Student Code of Conduct."

The ACLU claims the conversation with the mother of one of the boys was much different.

"Principal Beasley told (the mother) that she did not like homosexuals and found it hard to deal with homosexuality," according to Sun's letter. "Beasley ... then informed her that homosexuality would not be tolerated ... and that she was glad she did not have any kids so she wouldn't have to deal with these kinds of problems."

Turner denied any discrimination on Beasley's part.

"It is the position of the Memphis City Schools that the principal did act in an appropriate manner in order to correct a serious issue at the school and the Memphis City Schools has not subjected either of these students to discriminatory treatment," he wrote.

The ACLU claims the two teens have lost their constitutional freedom of association and have been unfairly singled out when they didn't take part in any inappropriate public displays of affection.

Neither side is ruling out further talks to resolve the controversy.

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