CHARLESTOWN — A mother says she intends to sue Greater Clark County Schools, claiming her daughter, who self-identifies as a lesbian, has encountered discrimination at Charlestown High School.
On Friday, Charlestown resident Melissa Hart sent a letter of intent to sue to Greater Clark administration alleging “discrimination, failing to protect a student from bullying and violation of students rights.”
She also filed a formal complaint Wednesday to administration at Greater Clark and Charlestown High School, addressing statements she alleges were made by a teacher and an administrator at the school.
Hart alleges in her formal complaint that her 17-year-old daughter has faced multiple instances of “homophobic discrimination and bullying at the hands of a teacher and an administrator.”
“It is time to stop brushing these issues under the rug,” she wrote in the complaint. “It is time for Greater Clark County Schools to take decisive action against homophobia and discrimination of any kind taking place within the walls of our schools. Additionally, Greater Clark must invest in comprehensive training for staff regarding how to compassionately deal with LGBT students.”
The intent to sue notes the plaintiff is seeking the firing of three Greater Clark employees; unspecified monetary damages for pain and suffering, and a public apology.
Her daughter declined to speak with the News and Tribune, according to Hart.
Greater Clark Superintendent Mark Laughner responded Friday that “We take these allegations seriously. We have opened an investigation. We cannot comment further on the details surrounding the allegations until the investigation is complete.
“Greater Clark does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex (including transgender status, sexual orientation, and gender identity). We follow all federal and state laws concerning reports of discrimination. In addition, all staff complete mandatory anti-discrimination training.”
INCIDENTS AT SCHOOL
Hart said her daughter recently started dating another student, and they would “hold hands like normal teenagers.” While Hart acknowledges there are school policies against public displays of affection, she worries that her daughter has been “targeted” because she is in a same-sex relationship.
Hart said her daughter has reported to her multiple times that one of her teachers, who was named in the complaint and letter of intent to sue, has “humiliated” her on multiple occasions by making “inappropriate and derogatory comments” related to her sexual orientation while in the presence of other students. She alleges that her daughter told her that one day when she was late to class after being in the hallway with her girlfriend, the teacher told her in front of the class, “You wouldn’t be late if you hadn’t been kissing and hugging on that girl.”
That teacher did not respond to emailed requests for comment sent Thursday and Friday.
Hart said that on Monday, her daughter skipped that teacher’s class, along with her girlfriend. Hart said her daughter cited the teacher’s comments as the reason for her skipping class.
A school official caught the students as they were skipping class, Hart said, and her daughter told her mother and administrators that they were eating cookies and watching TikTok videos as they hid in a school restroom.
Hart said her daughter called her and put the phone on speaker, after she and her girlfriend were caught skipping class. Hart said she was listening on the phone, and could hear the school official yell at the two students, “get your s**t and get your gay asses out of there.” She said her daughter confirmed to her the name of the administrator who was yelling.
The News and Tribune is not identifying school officials and the teacher named in the complaint letter and the notice of intent to sue, since no formal legal action has been taken. Both documents are available on our website, newsandtribune.com, with their names redacted.
Hart said she remained on speaker phone as two school officials spoke to her daughter in the hallway and in the administration office. They first started asking what she was doing in the bathroom, and she admitted to skipping, Hart said.
Hart said school officials asked her daughter if she was in a romantic relationship with the other student, and if they had been having intimate relations, to which the daughter repeated that they were only watching TikTok videos and eating cookies while skipping class.
The questions made her daughter “feel uncomfortable and isolated as she was forced to answer questions about the fact she identifies as a lesbian,” Hart said in a letter emailed to the News and Tribune.
Hart said she learned on Tuesday that a school official had spoken a couple of weeks ago to her daughter and girlfriend regarding complaints from teachers and students about the pair holding hands. She said she questioned why her daughter was being singled out and was told that the Charlestown community isn’t ready to deal with same-sex relationships.
“I told him, ‘she has rights, my daughter does have rights,’” Hart said, to which she alleges he responded, ‘No ma’am, she doesn’t.’”
Her daughter acknowledged that she failed to show up to class, Hart said, and she agrees with her daughter receiving an hour of detention. However, she said in the complaint to administration that she is “disgusted with the behavior of the CHS administration.”
“The only thing my daughter is guilty of is she skipped class,” the mother said.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT
Hart said at this time, she doesn’t feel Greater Clark “has done anything to rectify the situation other than to move my kid around,” saying moving her daughter to another class or another school have been among the proposed solutions from administrators. Her daughter also wants to be at school instead of taking the online learning option, she said.
“She just wants to be in school and be normal — that’s honest to God what she wants,” Hart said.
If her daughter encounters “any additional homophobic remarks or targeting” from the school, Hart said she intends to file a complaint with the Indiana Department of Education.
“Let me be clear, this is homophobic discrimination plain and simple,” Hart said. “You do not have the right to interrogate my daughter regarding her sexual orientation. [The school official] should be ashamed of himself for targeting my daughter with his homophobic remarks in front of her and the entire class. The CHS administration should be ashamed of themselves for condoning, promoting, and participating in this behavior.”
She reached out to Evan Stoner, founder and board president of Southern Indiana Pride, for guidance, she said. In reference to Hart’s allegations, Stoner said Greater Clark cannot continue to “brush homophobic discrimination under the rug.”
“I think any teacher or any administrator who thinks it’s OK to bully a student, a student that identifies as LGBT — they should not be in a classroom, and they should not be in the school,” he said.
Stoner said he would like to see the district form a plan to address the issue of LGBTQ discrimination.
“I don’t want to take away the progress we have made,” he said. “We have made great progress, and I think that’s what this community deserves and our students deserve — for Greater Clark County Schools to immediately find ways to invest in training for teachers and staff to know how to compassionately deal with students who identify as LGBT.”
Regarding the intent to sue notice, Hart has not hired an attorney yet, she said Friday. She said she has given “a lot of thought” to taking legal action.
“I know there’s going to be repercussions from all this, but we’re willing to face whatever — it’s just the right thing to do,” Hart said.