ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — When an Albuquerque cheerleader tried to switch schools after teammates shared nude photos of her, the school district told her she could transfer only if she promised not to file a lawsuit, according to court documents.
The 17-year-old former West Mesa High School varsity cheerleader filed a civil rights lawsuit in state District Court against Albuquerque Public Schools and five district employees Jan. 16.
The girl, then 15, was on a trip to Phoenix with the squad in July 2015 when her teammates photographed and made videos of her while she was in the shower, according to the lawsuit. The images were shared among several members of the squad – some of whom made disparaging comments about the teen’s body – and posted on Snapchat, a video and photo sharing social media app.
APS spokeswoman Monica Armenta said the district does not comment on pending lawsuits.
When the teen told her coach about the incident, the coach told her to apologize to her teammates for “overreacting to a joke,” according to the lawsuit. The girl’s parents contacted police in Phoenix to report the incident, but the coach refused to cooperate or return phone calls to the police department.
In the weeks that followed, the cheerleader “suffered pervasive harassment, distress, intimidation and unfair treatment,” not only from teammates, but also from coaches and West Mesa administrators, the lawsuit alleges.
She was demoted from her position on the squad and taunted by her teammates to the point that she left the team.
Having dealt with “pervasive harassment, retaliation and intimidation,” the girl asked APS in October for permission to transfer to another high school citing “student safety” concerns.
In January, her mother obtained permission for her daughter to begin classes immediately at another APS school. Later that day, though, the mother was contacted by the APS director for compliance, according to the lawsuit, who said the transfer was not approved and that other students were ahead of the teen on the waiting list.
“The district is willing to facilitate a transfer for (the girl) ahead of other students if we can put any and all disputes behind us,” said the email, obtained by the Journal.
Attached was a settlement agreement that required the girl to “waive her right to bring civil claims.” The district, the suit argues, “inappropriately interfered with (her) right to a free and appropriate education in an effort to extort a waiver of (her) access to the civil justice system.”
The girl’s attorney, Mollie McGraw, said in a statement that the district failed to protect her client.
“APS put its interests ahead of the child’s and refused to transfer her to a new school unless the child entered into a settlement agreement with APS that would require her to give up her legal rights,” McGraw said. “A child’s right to an education in a safe environment is not negotiable.”
The girl was finally able to transfer to another APS school after her attorney filed a temporary restraining order against the district. She is seeking compensatory damages.