North Carolina school district settles suit over wearing nose stud in school

Johnston County Schools (JCS) has agreed to allow a Clayton High School student to wear a nose stud, despite a dress-code policy that prohibits facial jewelry, says the News & Observer. Ariana Iacono was suspended four times this school year for refusing to remove her small nose stud. She asserted that she should be exempt from the dress code because she is a member of the Church of Body Modification, an organization that encourages piercings and tattoos as a path to spiritual enlightenment.

JCS and the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina (ACLU-NC), which had filed suit on Iacono’s behalf, settled the suit, ending the eight-month long litigation. In October 2010, federal district court Judge Malcolm J. Howard granted a temporary restraining order that prevented the school from disciplining Iacono over the jewelry.

According to JCS spokeswoman Terri Sessoms, the Johnston County Board of Education decided to settle the case rather than to continue to bear the cost of litigation. “With the tough economic times that we’re in, they just want to reserve resources for the classroom instead of using it on legal fees,” Sessoms said. In addition to exempting Iacono from the dress code, JCS  will wipe clean her discipline record and allow her to retake an honors science course that she could not complete this school year because of suspension days. JCS agreed to pay $15,000 in court costs and fees for the ACLU-NC.

As part of the settlement agreement, JCS will revise its dress-code policy, which currently allows school officials to make exceptions for students who have “sincerely held” religious beliefs. Under the current policy, when school principals decide whether to grant dress-code exemptions, they can determine whether a student’s religious beliefs “are central to religious doctrine.” The new policy will eliminate that phrase.

Source: News & Observer, 6/7/11, Sarah Nagem

[Editor’s Note: In October 2010, USA Today reported on the federal district court judge’s issuance of a temporary restraining order requiring Clayton High School officials to readmit Iacono.  The article noted that she had been suspended on four occasions for wearing a nose stud that she said is part of her religion. A summary of the article is available below.]

NSBA Legal Clips archive on JCS dress code litigation

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