Albuquerque Schools Lashed in a Split Ruling

ALBUQUERQUE (CN) — A federal judge issued a split ruling for a cheerleader who sued Albuquerque Public Schools for refusing to let her transfer high schools unless she promised not to sue after teammates took nude pictures of her and posted them on Snapchat.

U.S. District Judge Robert Brack on Monday dismissed the cheerleader’s claim for gender-based harassment, but found she stated a plausible claim for retaliation under Title IX.

Despite the split ruling, Brack’s order contains some harsh language about the defendants.

“Mortified [by being photographed naked], B.P. went to her cheerleading coach for help,” Brack wrote on Page 1 of the 21-page memorandum and order. “Rather than help the child and discipline the perpetrators of a crime, the coach turned on B.P. The coach prevented B.P. from telling hotel security, refused to cooperate with the eventual police investigation, forced B.P. to apologize to the entire squad for ruining the weekend, ostracized her from squad activities, and ultimately demoted her from her squad position. Emboldened by the tacit approval from their authority figure, B.P.’s now former teammates continued to harass her at school to the point that B.P. did not feel safe and sought transfer to a new high school. School officials, smelling a lawsuit, tried to obstruct B.P.’s exit: they told her parents that the transfer would not go through until the family signed documents releasing the school from all civil claims. The school’s ruse was unsuccessful, as B.P. is now at her transfer school and the Court is presiding over her claims under Title IX, the First Amendment, the Equal Protection Clause, and 42 U.S.C. § 1985.”

The cheerleader, B.P., was 15 when the varsity cheer squad at West Mesa High School in Albuquerque took a trip to a cheerleading camp in Phoenix.

In her original complaint, B.P. says her teammates used the junior varsity coach’s cellphone to take photos and video of her in the shower without her consent, even jerking the shower curtain out of her hands to take video. They showed the video to at least seven teammates and posted it on Snapchat, B.P. says in her January 2017 lawsuit.

B.P. says she reported the incident to lead defendant Brittny Saavedra, the cheerleading coach, who allegedly called it “no big deal,” and said she wouldn’t punish the other cheerleaders because it would “ruin the trip for everybody.”

After returning to Albuquerque, B.P. says, her teammates and coaches harassed her, her coaches called her a “baby” and told her to “get over it.” She says she was demoted, excluded from team activities, and finally quit the team because of the harassment.

Despite her parents’ repeated attempts to resolve the matter with the defendant Albuquerque Public School District, only one girl involved in the photographing and harassment was disciplined, and she was allowed to remain on the varsity cheerleading squad, B.P. says.

Because she no longer felt safe at school, B.P. and her younger brother asked to be transferred to another high school. But the school district refused to do it unless her parents signed a release of liability from the nude photos incident, the complaint states.

The original complaint cites an email from defendant APS Executive Director of Compliance for Special Education Cynthia Soo Hoo, which states in part: “(T)he District is willing to facilitate a transfer of [B.P.] ahead of other students if we can put any and all disputes behind us. Attached is the settlement agreement necessary for an approved transfer to Albuquerque High School.”

When the family refused to sign the release, B.P. says, her transfer was delayed for months, and approved only after the family sought a temporary restraining order.

In June last year U.S. Magistrate Judge William P. Lynch dismissed B.P.’s claim of conspiracy to violate her civil rights.

But on Monday this week, Brack allowed B.P.’s retaliation claim to proceed, though not her claim for gender-based harassment. She sued through guardian ad litem Rachel Higgins. She is represented by Kelly Stout Sanchez with Martinez, Hart, Thompson & Sanchez.

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