Kilgore trustees take no action on lawsuit

Published on Friday, 14 February 2014 23:00 - Written by From MCT Direct News Service

Kilgore ISD Board of Trustees did not accept the most recent settlement offered by Skye Wyatt’s attorneys in a lawsuit.

The settlement calls for the district to adopt a policy not to discriminate based on one’s sexual preference or orientation, to follow Texas Administrative Code of Ethics and require training based on the policy language and code of ethics, said Jennifer Haltom Doan, part of Wyatt’s counsel.

After trustees met with the district’s attorney, Robert Davis, they made a motion to adjourn without taking action on the proposed settlement.

The lawsuit filed by Wyatt’s mother, Barbara, on behalf of Skye, names the district and Wyatt’s softball coaches at the time Rhonda Fletcher and Cassandra Newell as defendants.

The lawsuit stems from an incident that allegedly occurred on March 3, 2009. According to legal documents, Wyatt — then a 16-year-old Kilgore High School sophomore — and her mother allege that Fletcher and Newell revealed Wyatt’s sexuality to her mother following an “interrogation” in a locked locker room about an alleged “sexual relationship” she was having with an 18-year-old woman.

The suit concerns Wyatt’s right to privacy, Doan said.

KISD and coaches have denied the incident happened the way Wyatts allege, Davis said.

“The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals found that the coaches acted in an objectively reasonable manner and were not liable for any violation of the student’s constitutional rights,” he said.

In June 2013, the 5th Circuit’s judges overturned a ruling to grant Fletcher and Newell qualified immunity due to the issue that there was “material fact” disputed.

The $75,000 settlement agreed on was not part of the discussion on Feb. 7 between the Davis and the school board. The district’s private insurance company is responsible for the monetary settlement, said Doan, of the Texas Civil Rights Project.

By not accepting the settlement, she said the trustees agreed to not do anything differently going forward.

The description of discrimination in FFH (LOCAL) in the district’s Student Welfare policy is where Wyatt’s representation would like to see the new language. It currently says: “Discrimination against a student is defined as conduct directed at a student on the basis of race, color, religion, gender, national origin, disability, or on any other basis prohibited by law, that adversely affects the student.”

In the same policy, the statement of nondiscrimination reads as follows: “The District prohibits discrimination, including harassment, against any student on the basis of race, color, religion, gender, national origin, disability, or any other basis prohibited by law. The District prohibits dating violence, as defined by this policy. Retaliation against anyone involved in the complaint process is a violation of District policy and is prohibited.”

A trial has been set for March 3.

Another of Wyatt’s attorneys, Paula W. Hinton said she was “frustrated” by the outcome of the most recent meeting. She said it could be a result of a lack of knowledge of other districts around Texas with similar policy language.

The Texas Civil Rights Project originally brought the suit. Doan and Hinton came on in October to assist with a trial.

KISD Superintendent Cara Cooke inherited the lawsuit from former Superintendent Jody Clements, the assistant superintendent of administrative and pupil services in Longview ISD.

Neither coach could be reached for comment. Fletcher works KISD; Newell has left the district.

Skye Wyatt, now 21, was unable to be contacted for comment, but she has San Antonio listed as her “current city” on her Facebook page. Barbara Wyatt declined to comment about the lawsuit.