A lesbian teenager was allegedly outed by her high school softball coaches, but now, after grudgingly reaching a settlement, the Kilgore Independent School District has reiterated that the coaches did nothing wrong.
It all started in March 2009 in the locker room of Kilgore High School. Skye Wyatt was a 16-year-old sophomore softball player when her coaches confronted her in the locker room about her sexuality, according to court documents:
"Her coaches, Rhonda Fleming and Cassandra Newell, aggressively confronted, bullied, and berated her in a locker room to extract and publicize constitutionally private information against her will. Specifically, while acting under color of law as KISD staff, they blatantly disregarded Skye Wyatt's constitutional rights ... brutally interrogating her about her most intimate secrets, forcing her to disclose private information against her will, and disclosing her sexual orientation without permission and without any genuine, legitimate and compelling governmental interest."
The coaches had found out she was dating an 18-year-old girl that she'd met through one of the coaches, according to court documents. They forced her to admit her sexual orientation and then they called Skye's mother, Barbara Wyatt, and had her come to the softball field, according to court documents. When Barbara Wyatt arrived, the coaches told her Skye was gay.
Skye hadn't come out yet, and instead of being allowed to figure out and address her sexuality in her own time, her choice was taken away, Houston lawyer Paula Hinton said. The aftermath was ugly. Skye was kicked off the softball team, she struggled with depression and became a cutter, Hinton said.
"It was the worst form of bullying imaginable. It changed this girl's life, and not for the better," Hinton said. "It is not for a teacher to interrogate a 16-year-old girl about who she is dating. They claimed a year later that they had a legal obligation to do so, but if they truly believed that statute applied, they would have called law enforcement."
Her mother tried to address these issues by appealing to the school board, but she lost. That was when the Texas Civil Rights Project took up the case. The Texas Civil Rights Project legal director Wayne Krause Yang, Hinton, of Winston and Strawn, and a group of lawyers signed on to represent Wyatt, pro bono.
The case was set to go to trial this week when Kilgore ISD officials reluctantly agreed to allow the school district's insurance company to pay a settlement. But this is only to avoid more expense, the statement issued by the school district underlines:
"The KISD Board believes that the actions of its employees were in all things lawful. The KISD board believes that the pre-existing policies of the District were much more than adequate, and the Board Policies in existence at the time will continue to remain in full force and effect. ... No new policies are going to be adopted. The Plaintiff's counsel in this case attempted to bully the Board into changing its policies by threatening a long, expensive and protracted litigation. The KISD Board refused."
According to KISD officials, no one did anything wrong and nothing is changing. Of course this statement ignores the fact that KISD already updated their policy on sexual orientation, as Hinton pointed out. Skye is being given $77,500, yes, but she is only being presented with this money to make the lawsuit go away.
However, the school district will allow the Texas Civil Rights Project to come in and conduct training for faculty and staff next fall. Wayne Krause Yang, legal director for the Texas Civil Rights Project, was optimistic that KISD agreed to the training (let's not even get started on wondering if the school board would have committed if the Texas Civil Rights Project hadn't agreed to foot the bill.) "Every year before school starts, teachers will receive specific training on the issues of student privacy, nondiscrimination by sexual orientation, and the state educators' code of ethics and standard practices," Yang stated in a release. He went on to state that all school districts should follow Kilgore's lead. Considering how the school approached this whole settlement thing, that bit is kind of a stretch.
On the actions of the coaches who outed Skye:
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"They did nothing wrong. They tried to alert a parent, in the most innocuous manner possible, that her minor child could be exposed to an adult that was taking her off campus without the permission or authority of the parent or the school district."
On the settlement itself:
"The KISD Board of Trustees has no power to oppose the payment of settlement funds in this case, that matter being solely within the discretion of the insurance carrier. ... the settlement is much less expensive than what the insurance carrier would spend in this case in attorney fees and costs through trial."
It's a deft non-apology apology, but Hinton and the rest of Skye's legal team are counting it as a win, she said, and hoping the settlement will change things for Skye. "She's a bright young woman. We hope she'll use the money to take some college classes and move on with her life," Hinton said. However, the case hasn't officially been dismissed yet. "We'll file for dismissal. Just as soon as that check clears," Hinton said.