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What Happened With Reuben Lack

6a00d8341c730253ef016764305490970b-500wiThe week before last, Andy and I wrote about Reuben Lack, the former student council president of Alpharetta High, in Atlanta, who was allegedly dismissed from his position for trying to make prom more LGBT friendly.

Some of Lack's schoolmates showed up in the comments threads, claiming there was more to the story. Now it seems a judge agrees with them. Although Lack was dismised partially for non-offenses (stumping for his debate team in a speech to freshmen; engaging in an impolitic discussion of school matters on Facebook) which, if they constituted the sole rationale for his dismissal would be deemed legally inadequate, US District Judge Richard W. Story also saw evidence that Lack was an unsteady and unreliable officer.

From Judge Story's 12-page decision:

Once the Plaintiff proves his protected speech motivated the Defendants’ decision, the burden then shifts to the Defendants to prove that they would have made the same decision anyway. The Court finds that there is evidence which supports such a decision: 1) Plaintiff did not attend Homecoming Decoration day, wear spirit-week attire, or sell Homecoming tickets, even though Plaintiff sent the rest of the Council emails which reminded the others of their duty to do so and Plaintiff had previously agreed to complete those tasks ...

... After being repeatedly told that meetings would occur before school because Werre and the student-athlete members could not attend afternoon meetings, Plaintiff continued to unilaterally schedule afternoon meetings and undermined the faculty advisors’ authority ...

... Plaintiff routinely cancelled meetings the day before they were to occur without permission of the faculty advisors ...

... Plaintiff unilaterally removed a Student Council member after being told not to by the faculty advisors ...

... Defendants took a survey in October 2011 which revealed that the current meeting procedure was too “formalized” for many students and that some felt the Council had become a “dictatorship” under Plaintiff’s leadership ...

... Plaintiff did not attend the Alpharetta’s Best Dance Crew tryouts, practice, planning, or event, even though this was a Student Council event ...

... the Court finds that Werre and Reiser have been counseling Plaintiff on an ongoing basis about his failures since September 2011, and Werre and Reiser even went to discuss the issue with their principal, Kersey, on three occasions prior to terminating the Plaintiff ...

And most importantly:

While the Court is concerned about the timing of his removal -- that being within a month of the Prom Court issue and a week of the Facebook conversation -- the Court finds that the evidence supports a conclusion that the removal was precipitated by Plaintiff’s failure to send an email about a class president’s meeting after being personally told to do so by Rieser on February1, 2012, and his failure to attend that meeting the next day.

The judge sums up:

This is not to say that the Court does not value Plaintiff’s zeal to change policy, or that the Court does not recognize the importance of championing the cause of inclusion for all students in school activities. Plaintiff clearly accomplished much in the way of policy changes–he helped remove the cafeteria’s “utensil tax,” got microwaves for the cafeteria, was assisting in getting bike racks installed at the school, and was concerned that all students felt included at Prom. However, the Court ultimately finds that his frequent failure to complete or attend any “spirit tasks” and continual undermining of the faculty advisors is sufficient to preclude a finding of a substantial likelihood of success on his First Amendment retaliation claim. As the Eighth Circuit has recognized, “discipline, courtesy, and respect for authority” are legitimate pedagogical concerns ...

 

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Comments

  1. Interesting stuff and a good reminder that there are always two or more sides to every story. People are rarely the heroes, martyrs, villains, or even bigots we often assume--at times doing so as a community--them to be. This kid seems to have a lot of passion to make change and a lot of admirable enthusiasm for equality, but very little personal discipline and a certain amount of arrogance (not uncommon in youth or in politicians) that he knows best, and thus rules, critiques, even the complaints of his constituents and advisors are all less relevant than what he is trying to accomplish. And he went for the easy defense, but one I suspect he genuinely believed, that he was only being "targeted" for being "daring" enough to challenge the mainstream establishment. It reminds me of the two kids who got kicked off the ballot at U.T. for violating campaign rules, sued for reinstatement, then got kicked off again after several additional violations were found, and still complained it should have been the people who could choose or reject them not election boards or "rules." That arrogance leads to leaders who feel they don't have to follow laws or rules they personally don't agree with and who feel they are then free to impose their positions on everyone outside of the proper process. And it leads to winners like Sarah Pain, Newt Gingrich, and Rush Limbaugh who claim overtime they are chastised that they are being matured for their beliefs. Nope, sometimes you are just out of line. and its possible to have good beliefs and still be out of line, like this kid. I hope he learns from it, stops seeing himself as a victim, and grows up to be a powerful change agent in his community. But being smart and even right doesn't mean you get to not follow the rules, and it certainly doesn't mean everyone who opposes you is a bigot.

    Posted by: LuckyLinden | Apr 1, 2012 2:41:11 PM


  2. Wow - a future republican is born!

    Posted by: Beef and Fur | Apr 1, 2012 3:35:38 PM


  3. Someone like Constance McMillen should slap this kid across the face for this. At least she didn't cry wolf, unlike this little primadonna.

    Posted by: Joey Y | Apr 1, 2012 6:32:35 PM


  4. Woah. what a coincidence! Im in Alpharetta right now visiting from Ohio! :)

    Posted by: ej | Apr 1, 2012 10:43:45 PM


  5. This was a motion for a temporary restraining order. What the judge found is that Lack did not prove that he had a "substantial likelihood of success on the merits," not that he would definitely lose. The judge also found that Lack was removed in part as a result of his protected first amendment speech, including his Prom Court proposal. Read the opinion.

    Posted by: Jason | Apr 1, 2012 11:31:06 PM


  6. As I see it, the question is whether Lack's exercise of his free speech rights was a substantial factor in the decision to remove him from office. If it had any effect upon the school's decision at all, then it was a substantial factor. I respectfully disagree with Judge Story's final determination that the school would have "made the same decision to remove him even in the absence of the protected speech". Would the school have removed a "popular" student for the same cumulative [pre-protected-speech] transgressions? Res ipsa loquitor may not apply in non-negligence cases, but the timing of Lack's ousting speaks for itself.

    Posted by: Clementine | Apr 2, 2012 1:52:05 AM


  7. "Plaintiff did not attend Homecoming Decoration day, wear spirit-week attire, or sell Homecoming tickets"

    Good for him...that would make anyone puke.

    "Plaintiff did not attend the Alpharetta’s Best Dance Crew tryouts, practice, planning, or event, even though this was a Student Council event"

    Wow, he must be a major criminal!

    Wonder how Mr. Lack would respond to the court's "findings".

    Posted by: mark | Apr 2, 2012 3:19:58 AM


  8. Do you mean there are two or more sides to every story? I guess we, myself included, shouldn't rush to judgement every time we read that someone who sides with us claims to have been harmed by his/her positions.

    Posted by: jack | Apr 2, 2012 4:15:46 AM


  9. While I enjoyed the judges comments, and think that the court made the right decision, I wouldn't dismiss Master Lack's statements altogether. My God daughter went to Alpharetta High School. In the not so distant past, or within the last decade, her history book contained the Moses story as if it were history, rather than a religious story. This is also one of the schools where the disclaimers were placed on biology books. Oh, and graduation was held in a mega church. Certainly, there are some progressives within the student body itself, but Alpharetta is a very conservative, albeit wealthy, suburb of Atlanta.

    Posted by: PTBoat | Apr 2, 2012 10:00:48 AM


  10. I guess he was lack-ing

    Posted by: just_a_guy | Apr 2, 2012 12:09:41 PM


  11. Rueben's father put him up to this lawsuit. His mother and step father supported the school's decision to remove the boy from office; which rumor has it he was elected to as a prank orchestrated by bullies that was meant to be humorous. Rueben will never live this episode down. Its a shame that his father outed him nationally for his own ego. However, Ruby is an adult and must take it like a man (pun intended).

    Posted by: Rueben Lack | Aug 26, 2012 11:21:29 AM


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