Local News

School ordered to re-admit teen suspended for nose piercing

Posted October 8, 2010 9:40 a.m. EDT
Updated October 8, 2010 7:02 p.m. EDT

— A Clayton High student celebrated being able to return to school after a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order requiring Johnston County school officials to immediately lift her suspension for a nose piercing she says is part of her religion.

The emergency order allows Ariana Iacono, 14, to wear the nose stud, which she says is an essential part of her faith in the Church of Body Modification and school officials say violates the dress code.

"We are thrilled that Ariana can return to her studies," her mother, Nikki, said in a statement. "The school has wrongfully forced her to chose between her education and our family's religion."

"A mind is a terrible thing to waste. They were wasting hers one day, three days, five days at a time," the Iaconos' attorney, Jonathan Sasser, said.

U.S. District Judge Malcolm Howard found that the Iaconos faced greater hardship in the curtailment of their religious rights than the school district did with its need to keep disruptions out of the classroom.

"They wanted us to go through their procedures, there in Johnston County. And while that was going on, she would not be in school and we didn't think that was right," Sasser said.

Ed Croom, superintendent of Johnston County Schools, said that the matter was in the hands of the courts and declined to comment further, citing privacy laws regarding student records.

Attorneys for the school district argued that the dress code is neutral and doesn't target a specific religion and that the Iaconos hadn't exhausted all the proper procedures in challenging the suspension before going to court.

The lawsuit, filed with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, will continue with a Nov. 3 hearing to weigh a preliminary injunction that would allow Ariana Iacono to remain in school while the lawsuit plays out in court.

Ariana Iacono had been suspended since the beginning of the school year and ordered to attend South Campus Community High School for the rest of the school year.

The school system says her nose stud violates the dress code, which bans facial piercings, along with short skirts, sagging pants, “abnormal hair color” and other items deemed distracting or disruptive. The dress code has an exemption for religious beliefs, but school officials have ruled that Ariana Iacono's nose stud doesn't qualify for the exemption.

The suit claims that Ariana Iacono's religious rights are being violated, along with her mother's rights to guide her child's spiritual upbringing. It seeks that Ariana be allowed to make up missed work and suffer no more consequences for having the piercing.

Ariana Iacono says that her nose stud is an essential expression of her faith in the Church of Body Modification, which she joined in August. Her mother joined the church a year earlier.

"This nose stud is central to the practice of my beliefs, and I must wear it at all times," she stated in an affidavit attached to the lawsuit. "As a member of the church, I sincerely believe that this nose piercing is central to strengthening the bond between my mind, body and soul."

The Church of Body Modification has 3,500 members nationwide and was incorporated in Pennsylvania in July 2008, according to the lawsuit.