The family of an openly gay Huntsville City Schools student who killed himself in 2019 has announced plans to sue the school system for civil rights violations and wrongful death. Nigel Shelby told administrators at his school that he was being bullied. His friends reported they were afraid he was harming himself. He was just 15-years-old.
The school did nothing, a new lawsuit alleges.
The Suit Alleges That the School Nigel Shelby Attended Violated Title VI and Title IX Civil Rights Which Ultimately Resulted in the Teen’s Suicide.
Attorneys for the family of Nigel Shelby said school staff violated Title VI, which prohibits intentional discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin, and Title IX, which prohibits public schools from ignoring harassment based on gender stereotyping.
Civil rights lawyers, Benjamin Crump and Jasmine Rand said Nigel, who was gay, had reported being bullied at school and on social media repeatedly but was told by Huntsville High School’s then-freshman principal Jo Stafford that being gay was a choice.
Principal, Jo Stafford, “did not offer any assistance or take any responsibility to make sure that this child was protected and nurtured and loved,” Crump said. “He was making all kinds of cries for help.”
Nigel’s family is suing Huntsville City Schools, the Huntsville City Board of Education, the City of Huntsville, and several individual school officials, AL reports.
Crump, who was in Minneapolis recently representing the families of George Floyd and Daunte Wright, two Black men who died at the hands of police, noted that addressing racial bias from school officials was just as important as fighting police bias.
School officials also ignored Nigel’s friends who came forward saying that they feared he was harming himself and “were afraid Nigel would take his own life,” Rand said.
The lawsuit claims Nigel’s school principal told one student “that she didn’t care,” and that Nigel “was going through one of his episodes.”
The suit also presented evidence of Nigel’s friends accompanying him to the principal’s office to report the physical and verbal bullying.
Another incident, when Nigel went to Stafford for help, “she told him that he only had as much time as the hourglass sand timer would allow,” the suit claims. She “then flipped the timer on her desk over to start the time summarily dismissing and mocking” Nigel’s “desperate cries for help.”
Stafford told Nigel and other students to “dance to Black people music” to feel better in her office, the lawsuit said. The incident humiliated Nigel, lawyers allege.
Several hours after Nigel died on April 18, 2019, his mother said she was contacted by Stafford who told her to look for a suicide note in his backpack, NBC reported at the time.
“The fact that Defendant Jo Stafford expected to find a suicide note and even knew where to look is evidence that Defendants were well aware that he was at heightened risk of suicide,” the suit said.
“People at his school knew that he planned to take his own life,” Camika Shelby said at the time. “I need to find out who knew and why nobody told me until after he died.”
Shelby told NBC that her son had come out to her, and she was supportive. “I just grabbed him and hugged him and told him I already knew,” Camika explained.
“I reached out to see what was going on at school and I was always told everything was fine, and it wasn’t fine,” Camika said in a press conference announcing the suit.
“This has been the hardest two years of my life. … The worst part about all of this, I mean obviously is losing him, but it’s the fact that all of this stuff was going on and I had no idea,” the grieving mother said.
“It hurts even worse because as a parent you want to do everything you can to protect your kid,” Camika continued. “I’m not the type of mother that would have allowed my child to just continuously go through this so it hurts.”
A statement from Huntsville City Schools released last month before the lawsuit was formally announced said Nigel’s “loss continues to be felt by both the school and district community.”
“The district wishes to remind students, families, and staff members of the longstanding resources in place to support students,” the statement continued.
“Consistent with the district’s Core Values, HHS [Huntsville High School] has a strong Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) in place to provide support to LGBTQ+ students, and the district has partnered with GLSEN and the Anti-Defamation League to support its schools and students,” the statement claimed.
“Nice press statements don’t save lives,” Rand said in response. “I hope they will be committed to saving lives.”
Lesbian, gay and bisexual youth are almost five times more likely to have attempted suicide as compared to heterosexual youth, according to the Trevor Project, a nonprofit that provides crisis intervention services to LGBTQ youth.
Alabama, like more than half the states in the U.S., has no law in place to protect LGBTQ students.
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Rand explained that the goal of the lawsuit is to “bring justice on behalf of Nigel Shelby,” make sure “Huntsville and other schools to follow the laws that exist” and to “get greater protection under the law.”
Nigel’s mother told NBC that she was reluctant to bring the suit following her son’s suicide, “but if going through with this lawsuit is what I gotta do to bring change, to bring justice then I’m going to do whatever it takes, that’s the bottom line.”
Andrew is a Chicago-based writer who enjoys finding the best of the internet, obsessively making lists, and cooking for friends. After studying Film and Art History, he developed a deep love for both topics. Celebrity news, pop culture, and stories that bring people together are his passions.
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