RICHMOND, Va. (AP)—A high school official made a mistake by telling a student to cover up a lesbian-themed T-shirt or face suspension, the school’s principal said Friday, a day after the ACLU demanded the school apologize to the teen.
Bethany Laccone, 17, said she was asked to cloak a logo of two interlocked female symbols while attending a hotel management class this month at I.C. Norcom High School in Portsmouth. She’s a senior at nearby Woodrow Wilson High School, where she has not faced a similar ultimatum.
In a letter sent Thursday, the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia asked Norcom administrators to remove any mention of the incident from Laccone’s records and agree not to similarly censor other .
ACLU leaders want administrators to clarify that students can express political views. The school’s dress code prohibits “bawdy, salacious or sexually suggestive messages.”
The ACLU gave the school until Jan. 11 to respond or possibly face further action.
“What’s happening to Bethany Laccone is a clear-cut case of unconstitutional censorship,” said Kent Willis, executive director of the Virginia chapter.
On Friday, Norcom Principal Lynn Briley said the school would comply.
“Yes, we did make a mistake,” Briley told The Virginian-Pilot newspaper of Norfolk.
Briley agreed that Laccone had been censored, but said no note had been placed in her file. She said she would apologize to Laccone and try to meet the group’s other demands.
After Laccone’s teacher asked her to cover the shirt, she said she zipped up her jacket. One week later, she again wore the bright red shirt, which she said is her favorite.
Laccone said her teacher again asked her to cover her shirt or go to the assistant principal’s office. Once there, Laccone said she was given a choice.
“I could either zip up my jacket, turn my shirt inside out, or get suspended,” said Laccone, who covered the shirt, but told her parents what had happened.
According to the ACLU, administrators later told Laccone’s father the shirt had upset a conservative instructor and interfered with her ability to teach.
In Thursday’s letter, they argue the T-shirt “intended to convey a particularized, political message that lesbian identity should be celebrated and is a source of pride.”
Laccone said she just wants to wear her shirt.
“I don’t feel like I should have to hide my sexuality,” she said.
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