Parents consider legal action against school
By Lucy Weber
The Madison County Herald, October 11, 2003

RIDGELAND | Parents of a Ridgeland High School senior are considering legal options over proposed punishment for their daughter's role in a pep rally.

Kimberli and John Dawson said they're standing up for their principles in fighting the school's intention to punish their daughter for the way she dressed and danced in a skit at the school's first pep rally in August.

The Dawsons are talking to an attorney about seeking a court injunction to keep the school from punishing their daughter.

"We're talking to an attorney," Kimberli Dawson said. "If he thinks we have a legal right to sue, we'll sue and even seek punitive damages.

"I'm not going to have her whole senior year ruined."

The Dawsons say daughter Kaylei was asked to dance with the school mascot in a skit on the theme "Hot, Sexy Teacher." They say she was wearing a short skirt, a tank top with spaghetti straps and high heels.

"She was told to dance seducing him," Kimberli Dawson said. "She was told by some faculty members 'good job' afterwards."

Superintendent Mike Kent told the Dawsons Tuesday that their daughter must serve a one-day, in-school suspension or be suspended for two days away from school.

"No, I'm not going to take that. I'm going to take it farther," John Dawson said Wednesday. "I don't understand if we don't do something now, why the punishment goes up."

Principal Lee Boozer said he could make no comment in reference to a student matter.

The Dawsons appeared before the school board Monday to protest the punishment proposed.

"It seemed to me they had their minds made up before we met," John Dawson said.

School officials had no comment after the Dawsons met with the school board Monday. Kent said officials cannot discuss pending litigation or issues involving students.

"We've decided to stand our ground," Kimberli Dawson said. "We've talked to an attorney. He thinks we have a case."

The Dawsons said the proposed penalty increased from the initial choice of paddling or in-school detention to three days suspension when they notified the school of their intention to oppose any sort of punishment. The Dawsons said the school has also said their daughter will no longer be able to be a mentor to an elementary school student and will not be eligible for any activities or honors during the rest of the year.

"The threat of punishment is even more severe since we took it to the board," Kimberli Dawson said.

"The longer it goes, the risk of punishment increases," John Dawson said. "We're having to gamble with our daughter's future. This is such a minor issue that has been made a major issue."

The Dawsons said they have seen a video of the dance, and both agree their daughter did nothing inappropriate.

Kimberli Dawson said she's seen more risque behavior in past years in dance team routines or at school beauty reviews when her daughter attended Madison Central.

Lisa Howard Williams, a friend of the family who attended Monday's board meeting in support, said she has seen the videotape that she had another friend make.

"I did not find it offensive. It was humorous in its own way," said Williams, adding that her daughter and other RHS students knew the theme of the skit when it was performed.

The school board watched the videotape Monday.

"It was about a minute-and-a-half performance. It was not unacceptable in comparison with other things we've witnessed," John Dawson said.

He said his daughter is being singled out and other student behavior that could be considered questionable is not being punished.

Boys dressed in padded women's clothing at the school's mock homecoming celebration last week acted provocatively and haven't been threatened with any penalties, Kimberli Dawson said. "If they do it to one, they should do it to all."

John Dawson said the initial punishment offered was minor, but he believes no penalty is warranted. "This country was founded on principles and I don't think she did anything wrong."

John Dawson said the family can't back down from what they believe is right. "We're trying to teach principles and now how can we say swallow your principles."

"They took a molehill and made it into a mountain," Kimberli Dawson said.

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