Parents of gay teen who died by suicide file lawsuit against district

The family of Nigel Shelby filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the district who attorneys said violated laws

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The parents of Nigel Shelby have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against an Alabama school district after the teenager died in April 2019.

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NBC News reported attorneys for the family 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.

Shelby was the target of bullies at school and social media for being gay. According to the report, he was told by Huntsville High School’s then-freshman principal Jo Stafford that being gay was a choice.

The family is suing Huntsville City Schools, the Huntsville City Board of Education, the City of Huntsville and several individual school officials for the death of the 15-year-old. According to the report, the lawsuit mentions several students who reported the bullying and their concern for their peers.

NBC reported the suit claimed Stafford told one student “that she didn’t care,” and that Nigel “was going through one of his episodes.”

“People at his school knew that he planned to take his own life,” Camika Shelby said at the time, according to NBC News. “I need to find out who knew and why nobody told me until after he died.”

Pride Flags decorate Christopher Park on June 22, 2020 in New York City. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images,)

According to the report, Stafford informed Shelby’s mother to check his backpack for a suicide note, hours after he died.

“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.

According to the lawsuit, others would join Shelby and go to the principal’s office to report physical and verbal bullying. However, instead of calling his parents, Stafford informed the 15-year-old that his decision about his sexuality was an adult decision, so he should prepare to face adult consequences.

On another occasion, she told him that he only had as much time as the hourglass sand timer would allow. She “then flipped the timer on her desk over to start the time, summarily dismissing and mocking” Nigel’s “desperate cries for help.”

She also allegedly told Shelby and others to “dance to Black people music” to help their feelings.

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“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 to NBC on Tuesday. “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.”

theGrio reported Camika Shelby released a statement in June 2019 through the National Black Justice Coalition that hammers down on the likelihood the district may have had played a part in contributing to Nigel’s mental distress.

“After my son passed, I learned that he had several discussions about homosexuality with school administrators and was told that being gay was a choice,” Shelby said in the statement. “I was never contacted by the school and informed that my son was struggling with his sexual identity and regularly having discussions with a school administrator.”

She informed NBC that when her son revealed his sexual identity to her, she was supportive.

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Attorney’s Benjamin Crump and Jasmine Rand are representing the family in the case.

“The principal “did not offer any assistance or take any responsibility to make sure that this child was protected and nurtured and loved,” Crump said according to the report. “He was making all kinds of cries for help.”

Rand added that with their legal action, they hope to “bring justice on behalf of Nigel Shelby,” make sure “Huntsville and other schools follow the laws that exist,” and to “get greater protection under the law.”

According to NBC, Huntsville City Schools released a statement in March before the lawsuit was formally announced.

“The district wishes to remind students, families, and staff members of the longstanding resources in place to support students,” the statement said, NBC reported.

“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 added.

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