RALEIGH, N.C. — A federal judge ordered a North Carolina school to admit a 14-year-old high school student suspended for wearing a nose piercing she says is part of her religion, and the teenager headed to science class Friday afternoon.
U.S. District Judge Malcolm Howard on Oct. 8 ordered the
The judge ruled that the girl and her mother are likely to prevail in the lawsuit filed on their behalf by the American Civil Liberties Union.
"We are thrilled that Ariana can return to her studies," her mother, Nikki Iacono, said in a statement released by the ACLU. "Ariana was an honor roll student in middle school, and she is eager to get back to her classes and continue with her education as soon as possible."
A call to Nikki Iacono by The Associated Press was not immediately returned.
The lawsuit filed Wednesday claims school officials violated Iacono's constitutional religious liberty rights. The freshman has been suspended repeatedly since classes started four weeks ago. She and her mother, Nikki, claim the nose piercing is part of their faith, not a fashion statement.
An attorney for the
Ariana will be able to attend
The Iaconos belong to a small religious group called the
Richard Ivey, the Iaconos'
"It's a great step toward justice," he said.
But the dress code also allows for exemptions based on "sincerely held religious belief," and says, "the principal or designees shall not attempt to determine whether the religious beliefs are valid, but only whether they are central to religious doctrine and sincerely held."
That's where the school stepped over the line, the lawsuit alleges, saying officials repeatedly dismissed explanations of the Iaconos' faith by the family and their
Ariana Iacono has been suspended four times since fall classes started, missing 21 days so far.
On Monday, the school system denied an appeal of her most recent suspension, and told her she'd have to attend
Associated Press writer Tom Breen contributed to this report.