- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 13, 2021

A teen’s family is suing his Alabama school district after he took his own life, claiming the school officials did nothing to curtail bullying that led to his death.

The wrongful death lawsuit, announced Tuesday against the City of Huntsville Board of Education, aims to hold the school accountable for not intervening when Nigel Shelby, the teen, complained about being bullied for months at school and on social media.

Fellow students reportedly harassed him over his sexuality and his race. Nigel was Black and gay.

“We believe that implicit bias and discrimination, whether at the hands of the police who abuse their authority or the hands of school officials who abuse their authority and skirt their responsibilities, is just as important,” said Ben Crump, the attorney who is representing Nigel’s family and also has represented families of Black people killed by the police.

“Nigel never should have died by suicide,” he said from Minnesota, where he is representing the family of George Floyd. Floyd, a Black man, died in police custody last May. 

The Alabama lawsuit claims that the teen’s rights were violated under Title IX, a federal civil rights law aimed at preventing sex-based discrimination in schools. It argues Nigel was bullied because of his sex, sexuality and race.

The attorneys representing Nigel’s family said the teen approached the school principal about the harassment and other students also requested officials stop the bullying, but adults did not step in or offer to help him.

“They also reported they were concerned that Nigel would take his own life,” said Jasmine Rand, a lawyer working with Mr. Crump. “The school administrators denied the pleas from the other students to intervene.”

Nigel took his own life on April 18, 2019. He was 14 years old.

After his death, the principal of his school contacted Nigel’s family to tell them to check his backpack for a suicide note, according to the parents’ legal team.

Lynn Sherrod, Nigel’s mother, said she reached out to the school to find out what was going on but was told everything was fine.

“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,” she said. “It hurts even worse because as a parent you want to be there.”

A spokesperson for the school district did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Last month, the spokesman issued a statement, saying there are resources for students to get support.

“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 statement read. “Consistent with the district’s Core Values, HHS 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.”

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