PRESS RELEASE FROM THE TEXAS CIVIL RIGHTS PROJECT:
KILGORE, Texas – A long-fought battle by a lesbian student who was harassed and ‘outed' ended with the Kilgore Independent School District agreeing to update and maintain its policies and educate its staff, students, and parents, along with significant monetary compensation. Skye Wyatt, a Kilgore High graduate, signed an agreement today that officially concluded her suit against the school district for illegally forcing her to admit her sexual orientation and then revealing it to her mother without her consent when she was a 16-year-old student.
"It was a long, hard fight, but I'm really glad that the school district agreed to make a positive change that will prevent this from happening again," said Wayne Krause Yang, Legal Director of the Texas Civil Rights Project (TCRP). "It's not just a win for our client and her family, but for the school district, all of its students, and their parents. This will benefit everybody."
"This is such an important case," said Paula Hinton, a Houston-based partner in the law firm Winston & Strawn, who joined Haltom Doan of Texarkana and the TCRP in representing Skye pro bono. "We are happy to see Kilgore ISD agree no teacher should treat a student like this. Since 2009, it has updated sexual orientation policies and will now add additional training for its staff to ensure their damaging behavior is never repeated." said Hinton.
Matt Tanner, Renee Wilkerson, Kevin Keeling, and Gloria Martinez were essential members of Winston's team. Winston & Strawn frequently provides pro bono services on cases the firm deems significant. "The agreement puts into place important protections for students and their privacy rights, and the school district's official policy will prohibit exclusion by sexual orientation," said Jennifer Doan, a partner at her firm, whose key pro bono members included Christy Samansky Hawkins and Nicole Sandone.
"The school district has also agreed to back up its new policy with training for all of its employees, which will be provided, in part, by the Texas Civil Rights Project," said Wayne Krause Yang, TCRP's Legal Director. "This is a smart decision – it will make a safer, better school environment for all. 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. All school districts should follow KISD's lead. This is an important issue today, and any school is in danger of violating its students' constitutional right to privacy if it does not educate its teachers and staff how to properly respect students' private, personal information like their sexual orientation."
Ms. Wyatt is now 21. TCRP helped her mother file the lawsuit in 2010 on her behalf. The suit alleged violations of Skye's privacy rights under the United States and Texas constitutions when her coaches held her in a locker room, threatened to kick her off the team if she didn't admit she had a girlfriend, and told her mother against her will. The case was scheduled to go to jury trial on March 3 against KISD and the two teachers on federal and state claims. The federal court had previously denied defendants' motion for summary judgment, ruling, "the Court cannot find that the state's interest outweighs S.W.'s right to keep her sexual orientation confidential." An appeal to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals had dismissed one federal claim against the teachers under qualified immunity, but two claims remained against both the school district and the individual teachers. Her mother, Barbara Wyatt, said, "It was difficult, but by sharing our story, we made it clear that protecting students' privacy is important and revealing a child's sexual orientation can be devastating. Now we can all move on with our lives."