Smithfield, N.C. — The Johnston County school board updated the student dress code Tuesday to allow students to wear studs and rings in their noses, lips and eyebrows.
The move comes a year after Ariana Iacono was suspended from Clayton High School for violating the dress code because she insisted on keeping a stud in her nose while at school. Iacono said the stud was an essential part of her faith in the Church of Body Modification.
The American Civil Liberties Union sued the school district on Iacono's behalf, and a federal judge ordered that she be allowed to attend school wearing her nose stud. The district settled the lawsuit in June, allowing Iacono to keep her stud and implementing accommodations for students with similar religious beliefs.
Superintendent Ed Croom said the dress code changes weren't related to the lawsuit.
Other changes to the dress code – the first in eight years – allow colorfully dyed hair, prohibit tank tops and shirts and blouses that are strapless or have spaghetti straps and clarify that shorts and skirts must be no more than 4 inches above the knee.
"My message to (students) is come to school to learn," Croom said.
Students said they like the changes.
"Who thinks you're really going to be looking at someone's lip ring when you're doing math?" said Joy Guha, a junior at Clayton High.
Croom said a principal can still ask a student to remove any piercing found to be distracting or dangerous.
"We see this as a broader attempt for principals to be able to regulate things that may be hanging from an ear or around the neck," Croom said. "You may walk in and have a piece of facial jewelry that's in your nose or in your eye, and in that situation, the principal may feel that's unsafe."
The policy change has already garnered international praise. Rajan Zed, president of the Universal Society of Hinduism, called the nose-piercing ban "unfair to female to students of Indian descent" who often express their religious or cultural identity by wearing nose rings.
District officials also will go much easier on dress code violators. Instead of a 10-day suspension for a first offense, students will now have a chance to change clothes.