Ryan Lee, Associate Writer: News & Current Events
A federal judge ruled Friday that former Alpharetta High School student body President Reuben Lack was within his free speech rights when he advocated for making the school’s prom more inclusive to LGBT students, but that school officials “presented sufficient evidence that they would have made the same decision to remove him even in the absence of the protected speech.”
For that reason, U.S. District Judge Richard Story denied a request to have Lack reinstated as student body president, a post he was ousted from in February. In a federal lawsuit filed last month, Lack claimed that he was fired because two faculty advisers to the student council objected to his proposal that the Prom King & Queen tradition be changed to the Prom Court so that it was more accommodating to LGBT students.
Judge Story did not rule on the merits of Lack’s lawsuit, deciding only that Lack’s immediate reinstatement as student body president was not warranted because Lack could have been ousted for legitimate reasons unrelated to the prom controversy. Among the offenses that Story determined could have led to Lack being axed:
- Lack did not attend Homecoming Decoration day, wear spirit-week attire, or sell Homecoming tickets, even though he sent the rest of the council emails which reminded the others of their duty to do so and Lack had previously agreed to complete those tasks.
- After being repeatedly told that meetings would occur before school because facult adviser Michelle Werre and the student-athlete members could not attend afternoon meetings, Lack continued to unilaterally schedule afternoon meetings and undermined the faculty advisers’ authority.
- Lack routinely canceled meetings the day before they were to occur without permission of the faculty advisers.
- Lack unilaterally removed a Student Council member after being told not to by the faculty advisers.
- The faculty advisers took a survey in October 2011 which revealed that the current meeting procedure was too “formalized” for many students and that some felt the Council had become a “dictatorship” under Lack’s leadership.
- Lack did not attend the Alpharetta’s Best Dance Crew tryouts, practice, planning, or event, even though this was a Student Council event.
Although dealing Lack a legal setback in his quest to re-claim his elected office, Judge Story did not dismiss Lack’s claims outright and expressed empathy with the student throughout his ruling.
“While the Court is concerned about the timing of his removal – that being within a month of the Prom Court issue…the Court finds that the evidence supports a conclusion that the removal was precipitated by Plaintiff’s failure to send an email about a class president’s meeting after being personally told to do so by [faculty adviser Emily] Rieser on February 1, 2012, and his failure to attend that meeting the next day.
“This is not to say that the Court does not value Plaintiff’s zeal to change policy, or that the Court does not recognize the importance of championing the cause of inclusion for all students in school activities,” Story wrote. “However, the Court ultimately finds that his frequent failure to complete or attend any ‘spirit tasks’ and continual undermining of the faculty advisors is sufficient to preclude a finding of a substantial likelihood of success on his First Amendment retaliation claim.”