School piercing policies head to high court

Marley Butcher, Connect Editor

Ariana Iacono, a freshman at Clayton High School in North Carolina has filed a lawsuit after being suspended twice for refusing to remove her nose ring. Iacono says she’s not trying to be a rebel, she’s just following her religion’s beliefs.

While school dress codes throughout the nation limit piercings to the ear, more than 3,500 U.S. residents, including Iacono, have joined the Church of Body Modification.

According to the church’s mission statement, members strive to “promote mind, body and soul and to share a positive message to everyone.” If successful, Iacono’s suit could change school dress codes because such policies would conflict with students’ First Amendment religious freedom rights.

But West Shore Assistant Principal Jim Melia says he’s not too concerned.
“I have nothing against piercings,” Melia said. “However, it’s in school district policies that piercings are limited to the ear. No student [at West Shore] has ever claimed any religious interferences. I honestly think everything depends on how distracting the piercings are. If teachers and students are unable to concentrate, then something needs to be said.”

School Board member Andy Ziegler says he and other board members meet periodically to discuss dress-code issues.

“We consider religion when making policy,” Ziegler said via e-mail. “It is my understanding that anyone can start a church for virtually any topic of worship. If we were to make an exception for [the Church of Body Modification], how would we know who really belonged to it? It would seem we would have to eliminate this portion of the policy for everyone.This could then open the door to anyone creating a church to counter any policy we might have in place. Theoretically, our policies could systematically be made null and void.”

Earlier this semester, sophomore Kayla Edwards was told to remove her nose stud.

“The day after I got my nose pierced, Mr. Melia told me that I had to take it out and put a clear nose stud in instead,” Edwards said. “The only problem was that I’m not supposed to take it out until it heals. We ended up reaching the agreement that I had to cover it up with a piece of Band-Aid. But, in my opinion the Band-Aid I use is a lot more distracting and noticeable than my tiny nose stud. There really isn’t any logic behind the rules, because apparently facial piercings cause a hazard or they are too distracting. However, people are allowed to wear huge hoop ear rings, and that’s OK because it’s on their ear. I think they need better support for the rule because I really don’t see the purpose of them enforcing it.”

Ziegler says if more people claim dress-code-related religious freedoms under the First Amendment, then security issues could come into play.

“Let’s take a religion that covers their face,” Ziegler said. “Do we really know who is under that veil? Would it be safe for everyone to have their faces covered?”