School Asked, and Told, Mother Says
TYLER, Texas (CN) - A mother claims high school coaches invaded her daughter's privacy by aggressively confronting the girl about her sexual orientation, and that the school district covered for them with the bogus excuse that the school was "legally obligated to share this information with the parent."
The mom and her daughter sued Kilgore Independent School District, its assistant softball coach Rhonda Fletcher, head softball coach Cassandra Newell, and assistant athletic director Douglas Duke, in Federal Court.
The daughter, S.W., claims that Fletcher and Newell called a meeting, dismissed everyone but her, then "led S.W. into the empty locker room and locked the door behind them. They began interrogating her.
"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 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 the girl," the complaint states.
It continues: "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.
"Fletcher and Newell then threatened SW. that they were going to tell her mother that she was gay and having a sexual relationship with another girl. They warned SW that she could not play in the softball game that night until they told her mother this information. Finally, they allowed SW to leave the locker room.
"Next, Fletcher called SW's mother, Mrs. [W], and told her to meet Newell and herself at the field, which she did approximately forty minutes later.
"In an accusatory tone, Fletcher asked if Mrs. [W] knew where her daughter was. She recited her confrontation with SW in the locker room earlier that day. Then, Fletcher said SW was a lesbian. She also told Mrs. [W] that SW was dating an 18-year-old girl, and that she had arrived and later left the field with this girl."
The mother says was "in shock after learning that her daughter had been confronted alone about her sexuality by two teachers who she was supposed to trust."
After this meeting Fletcher and Newell removed SW from the softball team, and lied to the team that she quit, the mother says.
The complaint continues: "After these events, Fletcher and Newell removed S.W. from the softball team, placing her future educational opportunities in jeopardy. They lied to the softball team, claiming that S.W. had quit. Fletcher and Newell's blatant violation of S.W.'s privacy and the surrounding controversy has caused S.W. severe emotional and mental anguish. Her trust and respect in adult authority has been irreparably damaged, and she has suffered significant social ostracism. Moreover, Fletcher and Newell's actions demoralized S.W. Her academic performance suffered as a result, and her long-held ambition of attending college to study kinesiology and sports medicine, in emulation of her one-time role models, was destroyed.
When the mother told the school superintendent what happened, she says, the superintendent "did nothing to investigate or discipline Fletcher and Newell, and did not even inform Mrs. [W] about the possibility of filing a formal complaint until five months later. No disciplinary action was taken against Fletcher or Newell, effectively ratifying and condoning their behavior."
The mom then filed three complaints about Fletcher and Newell, and after a hearing, she says, the "formal justification [Kilgore ISD] provided for Fletcher and Newell's nonconsensual disclosure of SW's sexual orientation was that they were '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 mom says the school failed to train its staff "concerning their legal obligations in dealing with personal student information of a highly sensitive nature."
"Fletcher, Newell, and KISD have absolutely no legitimate state interest in the disclosure of students' sexual orientation to parents. Doing so is a severe and traumatic violation of students' privacy, and lacks any legitimate academic, disciplinary, or administrative purpose," the mother says.
"Their unconstitutional and unethical action caused S.W. 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."
She seeks punitive damages for privacy violations, 4th Amendment violations - the confrontation in the locker room, which she a "de facto seizure of SW's person and an unreasonable restraint on SW's liberty to leave this hostile environment."
The mother and daughter are represented by James Harrington with the Texas Civil Rights Project in Austin.