teen who was repeatedly disciplined by her school
principal for displaying affection with her
girlfriend won a key ruling in her lawsuit
against an Orange County, Calif., school district.
School officials did not have a right to reveal
Charlene Nguon's sexual orientation to her parents
without her permission, a federal judge ruled
Thursday. The 17-year-old is being represented by the
American Civil Liberties Union.
"I am very glad that the judge agreed Charlene
can continue to stand up for her rights," said Nguon's
mother, Crystal Chhun, in a statement. "I love and
fully support Charlene, but that's not the case for
every gay student out there. The person to decide when and
how to talk with our family about her sexual
orientation should have been my daughter, not the principal."
During the 2004-2005 school year Santiago
High School principal Ben Wolf repeatedly singled
Nguon out for discipline--including a one-week
suspension--for public displays of affection with
her girlfriend. There were multiple times that he
called Nguon's house, outing her to family members.
Wolf ultimately told Nguon that either she or her
girlfriend would have to leave school, which Nguon
reluctantly did halfway through the spring semester of
her junior year.
Nguon was a straight-A student ranked in the top
5% of her class and had had no prior record of
disciplinary action. Her grades slipped when she
switched to another high school as she struggled to catch up
with that school's curriculum and her commute grew from a
four-block walk to a 4 1/2-mile bike ride.
After the ACLU sent a letter to the school in late
July, Nguon was allowed to return to Santiago, but to date
the school has not agreed to clear Nguon's
disciplinary record. She is enrolled in a number of
advanced-placement and honors classes and had been a
candidate for the National Honor Society until the offer was
rescinded because of the school's unfair disciplinary practices.
In its motion to dismiss the case, the school
claimed that Nguon did not have a legal interest in
keeping her sexual orientation private because she was
affectionate with her girlfriend at school. The court
disagreed, ruling that Nguon can proceed with her
legal claim that the principal violated her
constitutional privacy rights.
The lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. district
court in the central district of California, seeks to
clear Nguon of any discipline on her record. The
lawsuit also seeks to create a district-wide policy and
guidelines to ensure that gay and lesbian students are
"We are pleased that the court recognized that
the school does not have the automatic right to
disclose a student's sexual orientation just because
that student is out of the closet to his or her friends at
school," said Christine P. Sun, a staff attorney for the
ACLU. "Coming out is a very serious decision that
should not be taken away from anyone, especially from
students who may be put in peril if they live in an
unsupportive home." (Advocate.com)