RALEIGH, N.C. - A North Carolina high school student can wear the nose piercing that's part of her religious faith under the terms of a legal settlement announced yesterday.

Clayton High School freshman Ariana Iacono was suspended last fall after showing up for class with a tiny stud in her nose, which she says reflects her beliefs as a member of the Church of Body Modification.

The school dress code prohibits facial piercings, but in October, a federal judge ruled that Iacono should be allowed to return to school, piercing and all. She's been attending class since that decision, pending a resolution of the case.

School officials initially decided to fight but chose to settle after weighing the costs of pursuing the matter in court, according to a written statement provided by a district spokeswoman.

The state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, which represented Iacono and her mother in the case, said the settlement was a vindication of the family's right to determine its own religious practice.

Under the terms of the resolution, Iacono can wear the nose stud as long as she remains a member of the Church of Body Modification, a little-known religious group that claims about 3,500 adherents nationwide and considers practices like tattooing and body piercing to be elements of spiritual practice.

The district also has to pay $15,000 in attorney fees and court costs.

The Iaconos and their Raleigh-based minister, Richard Ivey, said part of the problem last fall was that school officials dismissed the Church of Body Modification faith as not a real religion.

"Obviously we'd like them to apologize, but we've been tied up in court with this for months now, so quite honestly, we'll take what we can get," Ivey said. "This was always about Ariana's right to go to school and practice her religion, and she's got both those things now."