Lodi High Senior Josh Niemeyer and his date, fellow Senior Amanda Carter, 17, were one of the first to arrive for photos at their "Techno City" themed prom earlier this month.
Dressed in a white tuxedo and a hot pink dress, the couple contemplated what to do in their photo. Should they strike a traditional pose or should they go for something a bit … unconventional?
Finally, Carter said, "Let's make a 'T' for 'techno.'"
"The photographer encouraged it, said it was a great idea," said Lodi High Senior Bryce Williams, 17, one of Niemeyer's friends.
Williams said he remembers standing behind Niemeyer and Carter in line, waiting to take his prom photo and saw the whole thing.
"In the moment it (meant) 'techno,'" he said.
However, in some circles, making a "T" with one's hand, like a time-out symbol, has a different connotation. It means "thizz," slang for the drug ecstasy.
Days later when prom photos came out, Lodi High administrators saw Niemeyer and Carter's photo in a book made by the photography company with all the prom photos in it, said Lisa Niemeyer-Russell, Josh Niemeyer's mother.
Lisa Niemeyer-Russell said administrators associated the hand gesture as being linked to ecstasy and promptly suspended both Josh Niemeyer and Carter for three days.
Lodi High Principal Bill Atterberry would not answer questions about the matter, saying education code prohibits him from talking about student discipline.
"I'm not going to talk about a student," he said Thursday afternoon in his office.
Keith Burgad, owner of Burgad Imaging Inc., would not allow the photo in question to be published.
Burgad said he had no knowledge of whether or not the photographer encouraged the pose. He said his company doesn't tolerate any gang-related hand gestures in its photos, and he did not know what the gesture made by Carter and Josh Niemeyer meant.
"We can't be aware of all that," he said. "That's impossible."
Williams and more than a dozen other students showed up to school Wednesday wearing shirts that read, "Free Nemo," and "'T' is for techno" in protest of Josh Niemeyer's suspension.
Nemo is Josh Niemeyer's nickname.
Lisa Niemeyer-Russell said she doesn't see anything wrong with the photo. She wants her son back in school and the suspension wiped off his record.
Since Josh Niemeyer and Carter's suspensions were imposed, Carter's suspension has been lifted.
Lisa Niemeyer-Russell said she also wants to know why her son's suspension was upheld while his date's was repealed.
Carter said she was told that she was no longer suspended because she admitted that the pose was her idea. Though, she denies that the pose was used to promote illegal drug abuse.
She said she can understand why Josh Niemeyer wouldn't cop to it, though. She said it wasn't his idea.
- "Thizz" is a slang word for the drug ecstasy, popularized by
now deceased rapper Mac Dre.
- Mac Dre, whose birth name was Andre Hicks, founded record-label
Thizz Entertainment in Sacramento.
- "Thown' up a 'T'" is a common reference to the slang word. The
gesture is made by making a "T" with one's hands and is usually
accompanied by a face that looks like the person making it smelled
- News-Sentinel staff, UrbanDictionary.com
In addition, Carter had no previous suspensions, while Josh Niemeyer had one prior suspension for being caught texting during class for the third time.
Still, Lisa Niemeyer-Russell doesn't agree with the suspension.
"They were just being silly," Lisa Niemeyer-Russell said. "It breaks my heart because I see nothing in this picture."
Josh Niemeyer said he is aware that making a "T" with his hands - also known as "throwin' up a 'T'" - could be construed as a drug reference, but he denies that he was promoting drugs.
"That was never the intention," Josh Niemeyer said. "It was all fun and games."
Lodi High School Resource Officer Shad Canestrino said "throwin' up a 'T'" is a commonly known around campus as a reference to ecstasy.
"I think anybody with half a brain would also understand what that represents," Canestrino said.
Canestrino said while the students might have meant the "T," to mean "techno," they also knew of its other meaning, and should have to face the consequences.
Canestrino asked if the theme of the prom was "Standing Tall," would students be allowed flip off the camera and say it meant "standing tall?"
Lisa Niemeyer-Russell said plenty of other students were making hand gestures in other photos, but as far as she knows, her son is the only one that's still under suspension.
"They'll be dealing with those kids, too," Canestrino said about Lodi High officials.