Clay Schools Adjust Senior Photos Policy; Settlement with Gay Former Student Also Includes Sexual Orientation Training

Article excerpt

Byline: BRAD SCHMIDT

Eighteen and lesbian, Kelli Davis can say with certainty that it's great to be out of Clay County's "conservative community." Six months ago she caused a stir by challenging Fleming Island High School's decision to omit her senior photo from the yearbook because she wore a tuxedo instead of the customary drape.

Now a freshman studying criminology at the University of South Florida, Davis said she is "happy" with a settlement that she hopes will prevent gender-based discrimination against future students.

"I think it's pretty big because I wouldn't have agreed to it if wasn't," Davis said in a phone interview Thursday. "It's going to be better for them."

The Clay County School Board last week approved a mediation settlement that alters the way senior portraits are handled and forces the school system to provide faculty and staff with "sexual orientation" training. The district entered mediation after Davis threatened to file a lawsuit in federal court.

Earlier this year, Fleming Island Principal Sam Ward wouldn't allow the publication of Davis' photo in the yearbook because it violated the dress code for senior portraits. Davis challenged Ward's decision but the superintendent and School Board sided with the principal.

Davis said she wore a tux for her senior photo because it made her feel more comfortable than a drape -- the two options given to students.

"It wasn't a gender-identity issue," Davis said. "I'm obviously a female; I don't try and be a guy. But I was being discriminated on because of my gender."

Under terms of the settlement agreement, the phrase "sexual orientation" will be added next year to the district's sexual discrimination policies for students, staff and faculty. According to the National Center for Lesbian Rights, which represented Davis, "sexual orientation is actual or perceived heterosexuality, homosexuality or bisexuality."

The district also will add "sexual orientation" as a topic during an already-established annual training session for teachers and administrators.

The revised policy will be included in the student handbook, issued each year to students. Junior high and high school students are educated about diversity issues found in the handbook.

As for the senior photo policy, the mediation agreement outlines an official appeals process for students.

"Any student seeking an exception to the dress code for this portrait may file a request for exception with the school principal," the policy reads. "If a requested exception is not granted, the principal's decision may be appealed to the superintendent. …

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