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Judge: Panhandle principal mistreated gay students

Associated Press

PONCE DE LEON, Fla. -- A federal judge scolded a Panhandle school principal, saying the administrator led a "relentless crusade" against gay and lesbian students at Ponce de Leon High School and violated their First Amendment rights.

Student Heather Gillman and the American Civil Liberties Union sued the Holmes County School District, saying that the principal prohibited the teen from wearing gay pride clothing, stickers and buttons in 2007.

Students, including Gillman, had begun showing support after the taunting of a gay student at school. In response to the taunting incident, David Davis told the gay student it wasn't right for her to be homosexual and held a morality assembly, according to testimony.

He also suspended several students for supporting Gillman, court records show.

A two-day trial was held in May, but U.S. District Judge Richard Smoak's 36-page opinion wasn't released until last week.

Smoak ruled that Davis violated Gillman's rights by silencing all pro-gay messages. The principal also interrogated students about their sexual orientations, warned gay and lesbian students to stay away from other students and said that homosexuality was a sin.

"I emphasize that Davis's personal and religious views about homosexuality are not issues in this case. Indeed, Davis's opinions and views are consistent with the beliefs of many in Holmes County, in Florida, and in the country," Smoak wrote. "Where Davis went wrong was when he endeavored to silence the opinions of his dissenters."

Smoak ordered the Holmes County school District to pay more than $300,000 in damages.

School Superintendent Steve Griffin said Monday that Davis is no longer a principal; he now teaches American government classes at the high school. In response to the ruling, all teachers are undergoing senstivity training this summer, he said.

"We're working on training our teachers on First Amendment rights and free speech," said Griffin.

Information from: The News Herald, http://www.newsherald.com

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