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WHITNEY

School district sued over cheerleader tryouts

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By Brian Collins

WHITNEY - When 17-year-old Savannah Payne was told in January an in-school suspension would keep her from trying out for cheerleading, she and her mother took the Whitney Independent School District to court.

Hill County court documents show Payne was suspended for being absent to many times.  Her mother, Lisa Halbert, told school officials Payne missed many of those days because she was sick. School officials say were never given doctors' notes for those days.

Halbert said she and Payne decided to sue after the principal refused to change the status of absent days. To complicate matters, a restraining order was put on cheerleading tryouts after a district judge found merit in the lawsuit. 

"We went ahead with cheerleading tryouts the first week of April and that's when they were stopped," said Whitney ISD Superintendent Gene Solis.

Payne and 28 other students are still waiting to try out. Now Halbert says many of Payne's peers are upset and causing trouble for her daughter.  Some of those students have allegedly threatened to damage Payne's car or her home.

"It hasn't been a very pleasant experience but I think a lot of it is people are just not very well informed about the situation," said Halbert. "It's been very difficult at home and at school for my daughter."

Halbert said Payne had been a cheerleader since seventh grade and was hoping to receive a scholarship.

Both sides agreed to hold a special meeting Monday where the school board would decide whether or not Payne would be allowed to try out for cheerleading.

"We want what's best for everybody and we're just trying to apply our rules to the situation," said Solis.

"She's been cheerleading since she could walk," said Halbert.  "She and I are ready for this to be over...and return to normal."

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