The Texas Civil Rights Project hoped that Skye Wyatt's case would set a precedent. Wyatt, the activists claimed, was confronted by her two Kilgore High School softball coaches in the locker room after a team meeting, where they accused her of having a lesbian relationship with another girl. The coaches soon made good on their promise to tell Wyatt's mother that she was gay.
And how did her family respond?
By filing a federal lawsuit, alleging that her constitutional right to privacy had been violated.
"We want to change the way they do business in Kilgore," one of their attorneys told the Houston Press at the time. "They have to learn to respect the rights of students."
They had some success early in the case, when a magistrate judge rejected the softball coaches' motion for summary judgement, holding that Skye Wyatt's "right to privacy in her sexual orientation was clearly established" and that there were "multiple unresolved questions of fact" that would be appropriately addressed in court.
The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans was much less sympathetic to their case. On Friday, in a split decision, a three-judge panel rejected the magistrate judge's decision.
We hold that there is no clearly established law holding that a student in a public secondary school has a privacy right under the Fourteenth Amendment that precludes school officials from discussing with a parent the student's private matters, including matters relating to sexual activity of the student. We further hold that such students have no clearly established Fourth Amendment right that bars a student-coach confrontation in a closed and locked room.
The court also took issue with certain claims contained in the lawsuit that later testimony revealed to be untrue. For example, the suit said the softball coaches had asked Skye Wyatt point blank if she was gay. They didn't. More to the point, they never used the word "gay" or "lesbian" during their conversation with Barbara Wyatt. They merely informed her that Skye, referred to in court documents by her initials, might be involved with an older girl named Hillary Nutt.
Appellate Judge E. Grady Jolly writes:
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Instead of alleging that the coaches divulged, point-blank, her daughter's homosexuality, Wyatt's claim is now that she inferred [Skye's] sexual orientation from the coaches' comments. In response, the coaches argue that they were obliged to contact [Skye's] mother because rumors regarding [her] relationship with Nutt were causing dissension on the team, Nutt was a potentially dangerous and underage user of illegal drugs and alcohol, and any possible sexual relationship between Nutt and S.W. was a valid concern.
But those facts aren't terribly relevant, at least as the Fifth Circuit interprets the case. Even if the coaches had said Skye was a lesbian, they wouldn't have been in the wrong since, when it comes to their parents, kids have essentially no right to privacy at school. That was why the panel decided the case should be dismissed.
And so, the Texas Civil Rights Projoect succeeded in setting a precedent. It just wasn't quite the one they had in mind.
(h/t Courthouse News)