Cissy Lacks

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Date: 1995

Region: North America

Subject: Language

Medium: Literature,Theater


Artist: Cissy Lacks, teacher

Confronting Bodies: Ferguson Florissant School District

Dates of Action: 1995

Location: St. Louis' Ferguson Florissant School District, Missouri

Description of Artwork: Lacks allowed her students to write drama exercises that included dialogue natural to the characters the students created in her creative writing classes. Some of these writings therefore included vulgar language.

The Incident: Lacks was fired in March of 1995 allegedly for violating the student code prohibiting profanity.

Results of Incident: Lacks appealed the firing and sued the Ferguson Florissant School District. In September 1996, Judge Catherine Perry in the Federal District Court of St. Louis reversed the decision of the Ferguson Florissant School Board and ordered Lacks reinstated with restitution of back pay and legal fees. In November, 1996, a jury ruled in Lacks' favor on all counts and awarded her $250,000 in her race discrimination claim and $500,000 in her first amendment and fair warning claim. In June 1998, Richard Arnold, David Hansen and Roger Wollman of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Judge Perry's reinstatement and all counts of the jury decision. (From Lacks' perspective, which can also be documented from court records, they appeared to change the facts of the case as decided by the jury.) Lacks filed for Certiorari to the United States Supreme Court, and despite the fact that 15 national groups signed a petition (amici brief) for the case to be heard, the Supreme Court denied Cert in March of 1999. The legal case is now over.

Source: The Cissy Lacks website