LEXINGTON, Ky. — A teenager is suing her eastern Kentucky school district for barring her from the prom for wearing a red dress styled as a Confederate flag.
School officials called Jacqueline Duty's homemade dress too controversial and kept her out of Russell High School's May 1 prom.
Duty's federal lawsuit claims the Russell Independent Board of Education violated her First Amendment right to free speech and her right to celebrate her heritage. She also is suing for defamation, false imprisonment and assault.
"Her only dance for her senior prom was on the sidewalk to a song playing on the radio," said her lawyer, Earl-Ray Neal.
At a news conference in front of the federal courthouse in Lexington yesterday, Duty acknowledged that some might find the Confederate flag offensive.
"Everyone has their own opinion. But that's not mine. I'm proud of where I came from and my background," said the 19-year-old who is now attending Shawnee State University in Ohio.
She also showed the sequined prom dress.
"I wanted to show part of my Southern heritage," she said, adding that she had worked on the dress' design for four years.
Kirk Lyons, one of her lawyers, said Duty waited several months to file the lawsuit because much of the legal work is being done for free. The Sons of Confederate Veterans also promised to help pay for some of the legal expenses.
Duty says she was told not to wear the dress by school officials shortly before the prom, and was turned away outside the prom when she asked administrators if they would change their minds.
The lawsuit says that after the prom, school officials made students wearing Confederate symbols change or remove the items even though the symbols were not creating any disruption in the predominantly white high school.
Officials from the Russell Independent Board of Education and Superintendent Ronnie Back did not return phone calls seeking comment for this article.
Federal court opinions on the display of the Confederate flag on clothing at public schools have been mixed.
In 2002, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a case involving another Kentucky student.
In 1997, Timothy Castorina was suspended for wearing a T-shirt with a Confederate flag on it to Madison Central High School. He sued, but a federal judge ruled that T-shirts were not a form of free speech, and tossed out the case. However, the 6th Circuit overturned the decision and ordered a new trial.
The case was settled before the second trial began. As part of the settlement, Madison County revamped its dress-code policy.
The U.S. Supreme Court has not heard a case over whether a student can wear Confederate symbols to school.