A Florida shop teacher who mocked a 15-year-old pupil and told anti-gay jokes at his expense will make a public apology as part of an out of court settlement, it has been announced.
Herbert complained to the school on several occasions but says he wasn’t taken seriously. He also reported bullying at the hands of his peers over his perceived sexuality, but was not given the help he felt he needed. Because of this, he found little alternative than to begin to skip school.
The Florida chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) then stepped in and has now settled the case out of court.
Herbert, a 15-year-old freshman, had been bullied and threatened by fellow students at school and on Facebook and was physically attacked at school by another student who regularly taunted him with anti-gay slurs. Although Herbert reported several instances of bullying and harassment to school officials, the bullying and harassment got worse.
“I reported the bullying to the administration but it never seemed to change anything. I felt alone and it made me stop wanting to go to school,” said Herbert. “My breaking point came when one of my teachers started telling anti-gay jokes and mocking me in front of the entire class.”
As a result of being tormented by his peers and teacher, Herbert stopped attending classes and faced the possibility of failing the ninth grade. At that time, the ACLU of Florida intervened on Herbert’s behalf.
“What happened to Luke is inexcusable, but unfortunately is an all-too-common occurrence for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students,” said ACLU of Florida LGBT Advocacy Project Attorney Shelbi Day. “Schools have an obligation to ensure that teachers and students understand that bullying and harassment of any student is prohibited and to act swiftly and appropriately to address it when it occurs.”
After meeting with ACLU’s Day and co-counsel Phillip Chanfrau, Jr., school officials acknowledged that Herbert’s harassment had not been handled as swiftly as it should have been and several missteps had occurred. The district officially reprimanded the teacher who harassed Herbert in class and agreed to a series of actions to make amends for the impact the bullying had on Herbert and prevent any further bullying and harassment of Flagler County School District students. Among the actions in the agreement are:
- The teacher who harassed Herbert in class has agreed to make a public apology
- The district is working with Herbert to get him back on track academically
- The district has offered Herbert several options for completing his education in an environment in which he can feel safe
- The district agreed to recommend that the School Board add protections for “sexual orientation” and “gender identity or expression” to the Student Code of Conduct and the school district’s bullying and harassment policy
- The district is working with the Flagler Palm Coast Gay-Straight Alliance to create a series of public service announcements about bullying and harassment
ACLU Florida also said it was “pleased” that the District is taking steps to remedy what was allowed to happen to Luke but stressed that it should not have taken the group’s intervention in order for Luke’s safety and well-being to have been a priority. The ACLU does, however, praise Flagler’s response, saying that the steps Flagler is taking should serve as an example to other districts on how to combat bullying and harassment.
Currently, federal law does not give guidance or mandate anti-bullying policies concerning perceived or actual sexual orientation or gender identity. As such, while protections are implicit in bullying codes, schools often overlook these issues.
The Student Non-Discrimination Act as introduced into Congress last week could change all that by ensuring that public schools tackle issues of anti-LGBT bullying in the same way they would tackle other bias-related incidents, or risk losing their federal funding.