The Central Islip Board of Education has shied away from a proposed policy to limit its high school's homecoming kings and queens to what school officials called "traditional gender roles."
At a board meeting Monday, three board members voted against Policy 5211, which would have restricted homecoming kings to male students and queens to female students, according to a statement from superintendent Dr. Craig G. Carr.
"After exploring all aspects, options and case precedents on this sensitive issue, the Central Islip Board of Education has elected not to adopt" the policy, Carr said, citing federal and state anti-discrimination laws. The other four board members abstained from voting.
The board asked the district in December to draft the policy and bring it to a vote, after a local pastor complained when senior Faith Shepherd, 17, who said she came out as a lesbian when she was 13, was elected Central Islip High School's homecoming king. The district does not currently have a policy in place that dictates gender roles for homecoming king and queen.
Board member Kelly Valentin, who abstained, said the meeting's discussion was civil but charged. She said several students who spoke in support of Shepherd gave her pause.
"Children should be guided but they should also be allowed to express themselves," she said. "It's a very fine line. It was not an easy decision."
Valentin decided to abstain because "I have my personal beliefs, but this is a public entity," she said of the district.
Shepherd's mother, Nancy Shepherd, said the vocal support at the meeting was heartening.
"Everything I wanted to say, her peers had said it all," she said.
Some civil rights groups rallied behind Shepherd after the policy was proposed.
The Suffolk chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union sent a letter to the school district before the meeting, calling the proposed policy "discriminatory, it breeds hostility, and it infringes upon students' rights."
David Kilmnick, founder and chief executive of Long Island Gay and Lesbian Youth of Bay Shore, supported Shepherd at the meeting and said the student body had elected Shepherd homecoming king.
"The only opposition was from church members who wanted to bring the church into the public school system," Kilmnick said.