Education

‘We were wrong.’ Superintendent apologizes that students were told to change gay pride shirts.

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Martin County Superintendent Larry James on Thursday apologized that some high school students were asked to change out of gay pride t-shirts they wore to school and said students can wear anything they want as long as its not “vulgar or obscene.”

“They should not have been asked to change,” James said. “I’m sorry that the incident happened. I wish it hadn’t happened.”

“It’s not going to happen again. I promise you that.”

James told the Herald-Leader that he had confirmed that the incident described in a WYMT report — an incident that is getting national attention — did occur last Friday at Martin County High School, when he said approximately four or five students were told by an assistant principal they had violated the school dress code.

James said the issue was resolved by Monday with students being told, “Anybody can wear anything they want to wear, as long as it’s not something vulgar — and that’s all kids, not just one kid — as long as its not vulgar or obscene, anybody can wear anything they want.”

“That was the miscommunication that’s been resolved,” James said. “We’ve not had any more problems up there (at the high school). Like I said everybody wears what they want to, nobody’s going to say anything to them.”

WYMT reported that students were wearing shirts that included the messages, “Lady Lesbian” and “Queen Queer” when they were asked to change. James said he did not think that those t-shirts were vulgar or profane.

“Going forward, we want all of our kids to feel welcome and I don’t want them to feel discrimination in any form or fashion,” James said. He said he was going to make sure that “everything is fair.”

He said it was not the intention of the school administrator to discriminate against anyone.

James said no student was punished or suspended. “They were simply asked to change their shirt. That was all, no punishment,” he said.

“What we did was wrong. But it wasn’t that simple. It wasn’t that cut-and-dried. ..Things led up to that point, classroom disruption and things like that. Anyway.. we shouldn’t have done that. I take full responsibility,” James said.

Administrators at the high school in Inez did not immediately comment.

Student Zachary Mills told WYMT that he thought what happened was unfair.

“I don’t think it’s fair because I see people walking around school with Confederate flags on their boots, hats, shirts, belt buckles even,” Mills said in the WYMT interview. ““I hope that us as LGBTQ students and people as a whole will be treated equally because right now that’s not what it’s looking like.”

Another student told WYMT she thought a Gay-Straight Alliance student group should be started at the school. James said no one had mentioned that suggestion to him as of Thursday, but that would be up to the school-based decision-making council. Under Kentucky law, the councils whose members include parents and staff make many decisions at individual schools.

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