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Family of gay teen who died by suicide sue the school where he was relentlessly bullied

Maggie Baska April 13, 2021
Nigel Shelby died by suicide after homophobic bullying.

Nigel Shelby died by suicide after homophobic bullying. (GoFundMe)

The family of Nigel Shelby, a teen who died by suicide in 2019, are suing the school district where he suffered relentless homophobic and racist bullying.

Nigel Shelby had only attended Huntsville High School in Huntsville, Alabama for less than a year when he died on 18 April, 2019, aged just 14. His family is now suing the City of Huntsville Board of Education for violations of Shelby’s civil rights and his wrongful death.

A statement from Ben Crump Law announcing the lawsuit recounted the horrible events that took place in 2019. It said: “Nigel Shelby was bullied by his peers for his race and sexual orientation, and when he sought help from school administrators, was told that his sexuality was a choice.

“School administrators did not alert Nigel’s parents of his struggles in school so that he could receive help from a licensed mental health professional.

‘On April 18, 2019, Nigel Shelby died by suicide. Following his death, school administrators alerted Nigel’s mother to look for a suicide note in his backpack, revealing that they were aware of his plans to take his own life.”

Camika Shelby and Patrick Cruz, the parents of Nigel Shelby; the family’s attorneys – which include renowned civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump; and the National Black Justice Coalition will discuss more details about the lawsuit on Tuesday (13 April).

Al.com reported Huntsville City Schools issued a statement last month, admitting it anticipated a lawsuit from the family of Nigel Shelby would be filed soon. The statement said the school system typically does not address active or pending litigation, but it wanted to make public resources it had in “place to support students”.

The school district said: “At the district level, pillar two of the district’s strategic plan is whole student development. This pillar includes resources dedicated to supporting the social and emotional needs of students.

“These include feeder-pattern social workers, licensed mental health professionals and frequent professional development for staff on topics including culturally responsive instruction; equity and inclusion; and suicide prevention.”

The school district also said Huntsville High School had a “strong Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) to provide support to LGBTQ+ students”, and the district has ‘partnered with GLSEN and the Anti-Defamation League to support its schools and students”.

In 2019, Camika Shelby alleged that her son had talked to school administrators and was dismissed. She said she learned, after her son’s death, that he had “several discussions about homosexuality with school administrators and was told that being gay was a choice”. Shelby said she was “never contacted by the school’ and informed that Nigel Shelby was “struggling with his sexual identity”.

Worse, she said she was contacted by school staff who told her to look for a suicide note in her son’s backpack after he died. Shelby said the alleged incident meant “somebody knew that he was planning to do this” yet “nobody contacted” her.

In a statement at the time, the school district said it would “work with Ms. Shelby and her attorneys to answer questions they may have and to correct any misunderstandings or misinformation, to the extent possible”.

 

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