News release from the ACLU of Florida:
15-YEAR-OLD VICTIM OF PERSISTENT ANTI-GAY BULLYING BY TEACHER AND FELLOW STUDENTS WILL RECEIVE PUBLIC APOLOGY
Palm Coast, FL – The ACLU of Florida today announced an agreement in negotiations with the Flagler County School District in the case of Luke Herbert, a Flagler Palm Coast High School student who was harassed for being gay by both students and one of his teachers.
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
“The Flagler County School District is taking action to make sure that what happened to Luke does not happen again,” stated Flagler County School District Attorney Kristy Gavin. “The School District takes bullying and harassment of all of its students very seriously and Luke’s case made us realize that we need to do more to prevent bullying and harassment and to ensure that district faculty, staff, and students are on notice of what is prohibited and know that bullying and harassment will not be tolerated.”
“We are pleased that the Flagler County School District is taking this issue seriously. While it should not take the ACLU intervening to get a school district’s attention, we hope that other districts will look at Flagler’s response as a good example of what schools should be doing to prevent and address bullying and harassment.” continued Day. “Bullying is a serious problem with tremendous ramifications for students. We should all be working to ensure that no student has to endure what Luke has suffered.”
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About the ACLU of Florida
The ACLU of Florida is freedom's watchdog, working daily in the courts, legislatures and communities to defend individual rights and personal freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. For additional information, visit our web site at: www.aclufl.org.