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Judge: Schools
can't out students to their parents

Judge: Schools
can't out students to their parents


A lesbian teen who was repeatedly disciplined by her school principal for displaying affection with her girlfriend won a key ruling.

A lesbian 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of advanced-placement and honors classes and had been a candidate for the National Honor Society until the offer was rescinded because of the school's unfair disciplinary practices.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 treated equally. "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." (

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