Alexandria High School

Students walk on the campus of Alexandria High School earlier this month. A gay-rights group has written the school, demanding assurances that two female students will be allowed to attend the prom together, after a public invitation from one of the girls led to punishment last month. (Stephen Gross/The Anniston Star/file)

A gay-rights organization this week told Calhoun County Schools officials they’d sue if two Alexandria High School students, both girls, aren’t given written assurance they can attend the prom together.

The school disciplined one of those students, and another who helped her, last week for making a “promposal” – a public invitation to the prom – at a school talent show. School officials say the student was disciplined because of a general policy against promposals, and for defying a teacher’s instructions.  But lawyers for the nonfprofit organization Lambda Legal say there’s evidence the couple were discriminated against because they’re a same-sex couple.

“Our clients shouldn’t have to wait until the 11th hour to find out if they can attend the prom,” said Paul Castillo, a lawyer for Lambda. “They were singled out and embarrassed.”

In a Thursday letter to Principal Mack Holley, Lambda said it would take the school to court if the two students – identified as J.R. and R.G. in the letter – aren’t told in writing by noon Wednesday that they can attend the prom. The prom is scheduled for March 10.

According to students and Lambda officials, J.R. pulled out a poster with a rainbow design and the word “PROM?” written on it during the school's talent show. R.G. then took the stage and embraced J.R., accepting the proposal.

The event sparked intense debate on social media between parents who opposed the proposal and those who supported it. School officials gave J.R. and at least one other student in-school detention after the event. Holley said it was because J.R. defied a teacher who’d already told her not to include the proposal in her talent-show act.

Holley last week said he was opposed to promposals at school events, no matter who was making them.

“That should be a private thing, not a public thing,” Holley said last week.

Castillo, in his letter to the school, says teachers “suggested the Proposal occur off the stage to prevent ridicule or subsequent harassment from attendees.” He said Holley later made an announcement about the promposal on the school’s intercom, saying “this is a Christian school” and asking for prayers of support. He said Holley routinely visits the students’ classes and follows them between classes.

“The constellation of circumstances suggest that there’s discrimination” against the pair because they’re a same-sex couple, Castillo said.

Attempts to reach Holley, Calhoun County Schools superintendent Joe Dyar and the parents of J.R. were all unsuccessful Friday.

Dyar and Holley both said last week that the couple had never been banned from the prom, though they also noted that no one had yet been approved to attend the event, which is still a month away.

“It never was an issue,” said deputy superintendent Holly Box in a telephone interview Friday. “They’ve been able to go to the prom the whole time.”

Castillo said that because school officials weren’t clear in their initial statements, the students needed written assurance that they could attend the prom.

Castillo is also asking the school to revise its prom dress code – which requires tuxedos for boys and formal dresses for girls – to be less gender-specific. The group is also asking for an apology to the students involved, a written statement on school policy on LGBT couples, and expungement of the students’ disciplinary records.

Box said the district was reviewing the dress codes for proms at all county schools, to make sure they were consistent. Asked whether gender-specific language would be changed, Box again said the policies were under review.

“We’re just trying to streamline them,” she said.

Box said she didn’t know whether Holley made the “Christian school” comments alleged by Lambda.

“I’m not sure if Mr. Holley said that,” she said. “I wasn’t there. But we are a public school, and we follow the guidelines set for us by the federal government and the state.”

Capitol & statewide reporter Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.