Dates.: Iowa’s civil rights law extends protection to students on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in the classroom as well as in all activities offered by a school, both public and nonpublic.* This includes prom (and all school dances). What this means is that same sex couples may attend prom as a couple if they are otherwise eligible to attend prom. A school may have a policy that lawfully discriminates, such as limited prom attendees to current students of the school or recent graduates of the school. Here are a few examples for illustration:
1. Bill and Ted are students at Acme High School. Neither is known to be gay; both have reputations as class clowns. They announce that they plan to attend prom as a couple. Because the protection afforded to gay, lesbian, and bisexual students applies to perceived sexual orientation, school officials cannot ask Bill and Ted if they are gay or bisexual. They get to attend prom as a couple and continue their “excellent adventure.”
2. Acme High School has a policy that only students currently enrolled in Acme, as well as Acme graduates (if they are the guest of a current student) may attend prom. Alice is a current student of Acme. She may bring as her date any of her classmates or any graduate of Acme High School. But if Alice has a relationship with a girl or boy at Pinnacle High School, Alice must decide whether to forego her prom, attend stag, or ask another Acme student to go with her.
3. One of Alice’s classmates at Acme High School is Angie. Angie is class president, star athlete, 4.0 student, and top blood donor. Angie dates Brad, who is a student at Pinnacle, and is the top scholar and athlete and all-around best person in the world at his school. The Acme administrators decide to overlook the Acme policy (only Acme students may attend Acme’s prom) and allow Angie to bring Brad. Having made an exception for Brad and Angie, the Acme administrators must make an exception for Alice and all other Acme students.
*However, a bona fide religious school may impose “qualifications based on religion, sexual orientation, or gender identity when such qualifications are related to a bona fide religious purpose.” Iowa Code section 216.9
Dress: While a school cannot insist that students wear traditionally female or male attire (i.e., girls do not have to wear dresses and boys do not have to wear tuxedoes), schools may lawfully have a dress code if enforced even-handedly. The types of rules that will be allowable include such rules as “no exposed navels, no exposed nipples, no exposed um…derrieres, no clothes with obscenities printed on them.” In other words, the usual regulations are acceptable. But a boy may wear a dress to prom if the dress would be acceptable on a girl, and a girl may wear acceptable “male” prom-wear. By the way, what a kid wears does not have to be related to sexual orientation or gender identity. Think of it this way: If the male class clown wants to wear a dress, then at his class reunion, he will be the butt of jokes and the administration will be positively talked about as good Joes/Janes.
Decorum: The key here is evenhandedness. Whatever reasonable rules of conduct and decorum a school has must be enforced evenly and consistently. If PDAs (public displays of affection) are not tolerated, then make sure that staff break up the kissing between straight couples as well as same sex couples.
Drug testing: Drug testing is regulated by the Iowa Student Search and Seizure Law, Iowa Code chapter 808A. School officials may test a student ONLY upon suspicion that the student is under the influence. Period. There are no exceptions that permit a school to conduct (or to ask law enforcement to conduct) drug testing on a suspicionless basis. Here’s the kicker: Because the law is so clear on this point, school officials that continue to violate the law will be told by EMC that the insurance company will not provide any protection for them when the inevitable lawsuit is filed.