School outed teen to parents, said it was ‘legally obligated’: lawsuit

By Daniel Tencer
Thursday, December 23, 2010 20:05 EDT
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Two softball coaches at a Texas high school are being sued after allegedly confining a teenaged girl in a locked room, forcing her to confirm her sexual orientation, then outing her to her parents before ejecting her from the softball team.

The lawsuit states that the school district defended the actions by saying the teachers were “legally obligated” to inform the parents of the child’s sexuality.

According to the suit (PDF) filed in an east Texas federal court, in March of 2009 a junior at Kilgore High School — identified only as “SW” — was ordered to a meeting of the softball team. The coaches, named in the lawsuit as Rhonda Fletcher and Cassandra Newell, then dismissed everyone but SW, ordered her into an empty locker room, locked the door and confronted the teen about her sexuality.

“Fletcher asked SW if she was gay, and accused her of having a sexual relationship with another girl. She also claimed that SW was spreading gossip about this other girl being ‘Coach Newell’s girlfriend,” the lawsuit states.

The girl to whom Fletcher was referring had interacted with Newell at a number of school events. At the time of Fletcher and Newell’s confrontation, SW was dating that girl.

When SW denied these accusations, Fletcher and Newell reacted angrily. Fletcher stepped in close to SW and began yelling at her, threatening to sue her for slander and demanding that she “stop lying.” Newell also made menacing gestures. SW was very afraid, and feared they might strike her. This behavior went on for a few minutes.

The lawsuit goes on to say that Fletcher called SW’s mother and told her to meet the coaches on the field. When the mother arrived, she was informed that her daughter was involved with another girl.

“Maliciously and without justification or consent, they disclosed SW’s sexual orientation to her mother. Their unconstitutional and unethical action caused SW severe mental and emotional anguish, resulted in social isolation, and robbed her of the freedom to deal with her sexuality privately, at her own pace and on her own terms,” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit asserts that the coaches then ejected SW from the softball team and lied to teammates about it, telling them SW had quit.

The lawsuit goes on to say that the Kilgore Independent School District informed the mother that it was “legally obligated to share this information with the parent.”

“In other words, KISD’s policy mandates that teachers disclose students’ sexual orientation to their parents,” the lawsuit states.

That doesn’t sit well with Nicholas Jackson, an attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project, which is handling the lawsuit on behalf of the Wyatts.

“There’s a line of cases under the 14th Amendment, specifically the due process clause, that recognizes a personal interest in privacy,” Jackson told the Kilgore News Herald. “That privacy interest also includes protection against the government disclosing very private information. It includes disclosure of your sexual orientation, which is the issue in this suit.”

Jody Clements, superintendent of the Kilgore Independent School District, told the News Herald that she hadn’t seen the lawsuit but said “we feel confident that everything the district did was right.”

Although he lawsuit doesn’t identify the girl, both she and her mother appear willing to be identified in the press. Barbara Wyatt, SW’s mother, told the News Herald she hopes to “make something positive come from this.”

The lawsuit names Fletcher and Newell as defendants, as well as assistant athletic director Douglas Duke. It seeks unspecified punitive damages for privacy violations and 4th Amendment violations relating to SW’s confinement in the locker room.

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