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Legal action threatened over prom policy

A small school district in southeast Missouri is facing a threat of legal action over a policy barring same-sex couples from attending prom together.

The Southern Poverty Law Center on Thursday accused the Scott County Central School District in Sikeston of discrimination and gave the district until Feb. 25 to revise the school dance policy or face a potential lawsuit. District superintendent Alvin McFerren declined comment.

The district has one elementary school and one high school that serve a combined 330 students.

Stacy Dawson, a junior at Scott County Central High School, sought permission to bring his boyfriend to the prom on April 20, but according to the SPLC, was told district policy prohibits same-sex couples from attending school dances. The policy states that students "will be permitted to invite one guest, girls invite boys and boys invite girls."

The SPLC says the student told the nonprofit civil rights organization that the school board refused to change the policy.

SPLC attorney Alesdair Ittelson said the prom policy is "blatantly discriminatory and in violation of (the student's) constitutional rights."

"This unlawful policy reminds us that anti-gay sentiment still serves as a platform for schools to deny the rights of same-sex couples," Ittelson said in a statement.

Dawson released a statement saying that prom "is an important milestone in high school, and I would be devastated if I'm not allowed to attend prom with my boyfriend."

"It isn't fair that a school can randomly disregard students' rights because it doesn't agree with who you want to take to prom," the teen said in the statement.

The SPLC's letter to the district cites a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, saying the Iowa case protects a student's rights to free expression.

The letter also makes reference to a Mississippi case in which a federal court ruled that a female student attending prom with a same-sex date "falls squarely within the purview of the First Amendment ..." It mentions a 1980 Rhode Island case as well, which involved a school district having to pay $116,000 for denying a students' right to bring a same-sex date to a school dance.

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