Metro Weekly

Transgender ex-student sues Alabama school district over mistreatment

Zelda Menefee says daily harassment, threats, and physical assaults forced her to quit school in 2016

Huntsville City Schools office – Photo: Facebook.

A former Alabama high school student who is transgender has sued her local school district for failing to protect her from harassment and physical assault.

Zelde Menefee, 19, filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the Huntsville city school system, former Huntsville City Schools Superintendent Casey Wardynski, and eight other teachers and school employees, reports the Associated Press.

Menefee, who transitioned in 2014, claims that when she enrolled at Grissom High School in January 2015, she was subjected to threats and physical violence from fellow students. She was punched in the stomach, had food thrown at her during lunch, and even had her wig pulled off in the hallway.

But Menefee alleges that school administrators refused to intervene to stop the behavior. They repeatedly called Menefee by her “dead name” and refused to refer to her using female pronouns.

Administrators even cancelled a school beauty pageant after learning that Menefee wanted to participate.

“Every child deserves the right to feel safe at school,” Menefee’s attorney, Abbey Clarkson, said in a statement. “Zelda Menefee was deprived of that right. She woke up every single school day for over a year knowing she would likely be bullied, harassed, ridiculed, and discriminated against at school that day.”

A spokesman for the school district has declined to comment on a pending lawsuit, in accordance with district policy.

According to the complaint filed in court, Menefee was forced to take physical education with boys despite identifying as a girl.

In that class, students would frequently comment about her clothes or taunt her, but her gym teacher failed to do anything about it.

Eventually, she was allowed to enroll in the girls’ physical education class, but was barred from the girls’ locker room.

Menefee also claims she was barred from using female restrooms and relegated to a unisex bathroom in the nurse’s office.

She says one school administrator even made her change out of a knee-length skirt into a pair of sweatpants and a T-shirt.

Menefee says the daily harassment continued until she finally quit school in May 2016, citing a “dislike of school experience.” She eventually earned a high school equivalency diploma.

Menefee’s lawyers allege that the failure of Huntsville City Schools personnel to stop the mistreatment violated her First Amendment rights and her rights under Title IX, which prohibits discrimination based on sex. They have also asked for monetary damages.

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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