PROVIDENCE, R.I. — A school district that refused to publish a yearbook photo showing a high school senior dressed in chain mail and holding a sword has changed course and agreed to print the photo, lawyers for both sides said earlier this week.
Patrick Agin, 17, dressed in costume for his senior photo, largely because he's a fan of the Middle Ages. He belongs to the Society for Creative Anachronism, a group for medieval buffs, and he spends hours whittling arrows and building replica armor.
But when he submitted the photo to the yearbook at Portsmouth High School, school officials rejected it, claiming it violated the school's "zero-tolerance" policy for weapons. Agin and his mother sued with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, saying the decision infringed his right to free speech.
The ACLU said on Jan. 29 that the school district had agreed to print the yearbook photo and pay $2,000 in legal fees.
School officials believe their decision to ban the photo was correct, but they face a $600,000 deficit and couldn't afford the legal fight, said attorney Stephen Robinson.
"It was strictly a cost-benefit analysis in the matter," he said.
The state education commissioner earlier this month said school officials can regulate the yearbook's content, but found the rules were enforced unfairly since past editions of the yearbook contain photos showing items covered by various bans, including a corn cob pipe, liquor bottles, a beer stein, toy guns, arrows and a knife.
The school band's banner depicts a rifle-toting patriot.
The commissioner ordered the school to print the photo, and the ACLU said the settlement agreement means the school system will not appeal that decision.
"We thought that this was just the latest example of zero-tolerance policies gone awry," said Steven Brown, executive director of the Rhode Island affiliate of the ACLU.
Brown said he expected the deal would be finalized later this week in federal court.