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New York schoolgirls who said 'vagina' get suspensions lifted

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. --The one-day suspensions imposed on three high school students for including the word "vagina" in a reading from "The Vagina Monologues" have been rescinded, one girl's mother said Tuesday.

Louise Katzin, mother of 16-year-old Hannah Levinson, said the school superintendent called her Monday night to say the suspensions had been lifted.

Calls by The Associated Press to the other students, Megan Reback and Elan Stahl, also 16, were not immediately returned Tuesday. School board President Peter Breslin said he could not comment on school discipline matters.

The girls' defiance of school officials, who had told them not to use the word at the March 2 reading, had won support from Eve Ensler, author of "The Vagina Monologues," and many teachers and parents in the district. Ensler has since accepted an invitation from parents to speak at the school, a visit that was originally scheduled for Tuesday, but has been postponed to March 28.

Ensler, who had called the suspensions "a throwback to the Dark Ages," said Tuesday that lifting the suspensions showed "the intelligence and grace and dignity of these girls."

"I think it's a victory for free speech," she said. "I've always hoped that the play would engender dialogue and education for younger girls around their bodies and their rights."

The girls acknowledged they were being insubordinate, but said it was wrong to censor literature and to treat the word "vagina" as controversial.

"We knew it was the right thing to do," Levinson said. "Since we're comfortable saying it, we should make other people comfortable saying it."

The excerpt from "Monologues" was among various readings at an event sponsored by the literary magazine at John Jay High School in Cross River, a New York City suburb. The girls took turns reading the excerpt until they came to the word, which they said together.

"My short skirt is a liberation flag in the women's army," the excerpt went. "I declare these streets, any streets, my vagina's country."

The suspensions were imposed by Principal Richard Leprine, who said the students were punished not because of what they said but because they disobeyed orders not to say it. He said that because the event was open to the community, including children, the word "vagina" was not appropriate.

The superintendent, Robert Lichtenfeld, postponed the suspensions before they took effect, then met with the girls Monday and removed the punishment, Katzin said.

"He said they were going to look at this further, were going to come up with an overall plan for the future as far as censorship is concerned," she said. "He said something to the effect that he wishes it hadn't happened this way."

The controversy made news around the world and landed the girls, Ensler and Breslin on the "Today" show last week.

On Tuesday, the New York Civil Liberties Union issued a statement in support of the teens.

NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman said it was "shocking that school administrators would object to the public performance of a renowned literary work" because it contained the word "vagina."

"Schools should be encouraging students to express themselves freely, not silencing dialogue," she said.