A transgender teen alleges in a federal lawsuit that she faced harassment, discrimination and bullying while attending Grissom High School in Huntsville.
Zelda Menefee, 19, is suing the city school board, plus several administrators and teachers. The lawsuit says Menefee started transitioning from male to female in the summer of 2014 -- just before she enrolled at Grissom in January 2015. As part of her social transition, Menefee changed her name, wore female clothing and used female bathrooms, the 94-page lawsuit says.
Menefee said she was bullied by students and teachers until she finally quit school in May 2016 and got a GED. The lawsuit says she was denied access to women's restrooms, locker rooms and physical education classes.
"Zelda simply wanted to live as a normal teenage girl and have a normal high school experience, but the Defendants took the experience away from her," the lawsuit states.
The defendants include the board of education, former Superintendent Casey Wardynski, Grissom Principal Rebecca Balentine, Freshman Principal James Coln, guidance counselor Amy Langford, Title IX coordinator Shirley Wellington, and the following Grissom teachers: Connie Stephens, Jake Moran, Diane Staley, Alicia DesRosier, and Maurice Shingleton.
Huntsville City Schools spokesman Keith Ward said he can't comment on pending legal matters.
"Every child deserves the right to feel safe at school," said Birmingham attorney Abbey Clarkson, who represents Menefee. "Zelda was deprived on that right."
The lawsuit says teachers and students refused to call Menefee by her chosen female name. One teacher called her "sir," according to the complaint. Menefee also was forced to change out of her own clothing -- a knee-length skirt that complied with the dress code -- and into 'male' athletic pants and a T-shirt, the complaint states.
Menefee said the school administration refused to investigate complaints about bullying, discrimination and assault. The lawsuit says she was specifically threatened for being transgender and punched in the stomach by students passing in the hallway. One student assaulted Menefee and pulled off her wig in the hallway, but administrators did nothing, the lawsuit says.
Menefee also says the school wouldn't let her use her preferred name in the yearbook and canceled a beauty pageant because she wanted to participate.
The lawsuit seeks a jury trial on allegations that the school suppressed Menefee's First Amendment rights, violated Title IX, and failed to supervise and train school staff.The lawsuit doesn't name a specific amount of money that Menefee is seeking. It asks for, "an amount that will fully compensate her for the physical injures, mental distress, anguish, pain, humiliation, embarrassment, suffering and concern that she has suffered..." The lawsuit also asks the judgement be high enough to punish the defendants and prevent similar situations in the future.