Last month, Prep Rally wrote about a high school cheerleader in Texas who was kicked off her school's squad after she refused to cheer for an athlete she had accused of raping her. With the player in question, Rakheem Bolton, having pled guilty to sexual assault and the cheerleader in question now graduated from Silsbee (Texas) High, it seemed likely that the case was destined to fade away quietly.Instead, according to a report in the San Francisco Chronicle, the cheerleader in question is fighting for her rights even if courts can no longer put her back on the Silsbee team. After a federal appeals court ruled in favor of the Silsbee school district's decision to kick the sexually assaulted cheerleader off the team, the cheerleader and her family decided to appeal the ruling by the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
"What I want out of the whole thing is for somebody to admit they were wrong," the assaulted cheerleader told the Chronicle.
By launching a formal appeal against the prior case findings, the Silsbee cheerleader isn't just fighting a decision which she feels is wrong (not to mention charged her family with legal fees incurred by the school district in their prior case), she's also setting the stage for a broader referendum on the rights of student speech.
These days, "student speech is not given the respect it deserves. ...There's a mind-set that school officials are in total control," Vanderbilt University law professor David Hudson told the Chronicle.
Hudson himself spoke to the assaulted cheerleader's lawyer, Laurence Watts, who indicated his client's appeal was about more than just trying to prove the Silsbee School District's decision was wrong.
Here's what Watts told Hudson in an article the latter wrote about the ongoing Silsbee case:
"I'm thinking seriously about petitioning for a rehearing en banc," said Missouri City, Texas,-based attorney Laurence Wade Watts, who represents [the assaulted cheerleader]. "There are some substantial constitutional issues in this case."
"My client engaged in clear symbolic speech for a moment against a man who has now pleaded guilty to having assaulted her, in a setting choreographed by the school district, and yet that was not factually disruptive of the school program," Watts said.
Yet the case is fated to receive more attention because of the circumstances in which the assaulted cheerleader was banned from the school's team. The Silsbee cheerleading squad traditionally chants the name of any player at the free-throw line, and the victim would chant for every player on the team except for Bolton. She also continued to chant for the entire team as a group, just as she always had.
"As a team, I cheered for them as a whole. When he stepped up to the free-throw line, it didn't feel right for me to have to cheer for him after what he did to me," the cheerleader told ABCNews.com. "After that game I decided I started this, I'm going to get my point across now," she said. "So I didn't cheer for him at the playoff game either."
However, her refusal to chant for her assaulter was seen as breaking the squad's unity, which was judged to be grounds for kicking her off the cheerleading team. That decision was reportedly made by Richard Bain, Jr., the superintendent of Silsbee schools, though it is not known whether Bain upheld a decision made by the victim's cheerleading coach or if he made the decision to kick her off the team himself. The cheerleader and his family continue to hold Bain directly responsible in the suit against the Silsbee district.
The cheerleader's father made it clear that he holds all of the school's officials responsible for what happened to his daughter.
"I lost my control. I was very angry," Craig S., the cheerleader's father told ABCNews.com of the moment he saw school officials telling his daughter that she had to cheer for her assaulter. "I've learned to hold that composure a lot better now. I did apologize for that to them, for losing control."
Even if they are more controlled now, their latest declarations make it clear that the cheerleader and her father are not going to stop fighting their case just because she can no longer cheer at the high school level.
"It was my family against the community," the assaulted cheerleader told the Chronicle. "Football is everything. ... They were the star athletes and I was standing up to them. ...
"All I wanted was for somebody to come forward and say, 'Yes, it happened.'"