Arkansas school denies violating gay student's rights

BY Advocate.com Editors

April 01 2003 12:00 AM ET

The Pulaski County [Ark.] School District and Jacksonville Junior High School on March 21 acknowledged the American Civil Liberties Union's claim that the school violated a student's constitutional rights when it sent a student to the principal's office and forced him to read from the Bible after he came out to a friend at school.

School officials admitted that forcing 14-year-old Thomas McLaughlin to read from the Bible was wrong, but they maintained that the student was sent to the principal's office for talking in class and not for coming out. The school's letter to the ACLU stated, "The district denies that it intentionally violated any of your client's constitutional rights, and no disciplinary action has been taken because of the student's sexual orientation," according to the Jacksonville Patriot. The school also refused to rescind disciplinary action taken against McLaughlin as demanded by the ACLU. The school's letter further stated that "the student's conduct violated provisions in the district's student handbook, which prohibit a student from engaging in conduct which is disruptive to the instructional environment."

Chris Hampton, director of public education for the national Lesbian and Gay Rights Project at the ACLU, said two other students who witnessed the incidents have verified McLaughlin's story. The ACLU's next move is to decide whether legal action will be taken on behalf of McLaughlin. "[The ACLU] hasn't decided exactly what we are going to do, but something is definitely going to happen," Hampton said.

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