The ACLU is backing Luke Herbert, a freshman student.
It started with name-calling, in September. Luke Herbert, a new freshman at Flagler Palm Coast High School at the time, was used to that from other guys. Then he lost his best friend when she seemed to decide, for some reason, “It was no longer cool to talk to the gay guy,” he said.
Then it escalated, sparking involvement from the American Civil Liberties Union and ultimately, a possible revamping of the Flagler County School District’s bullying policies.
After the September incidents, a student made threats on Facebook, saying Luke, who is openly gay, would be “dragged away in a body bag.”
“He cornered me in the bathroom,” Luke said, “and I realized, ‘This kid isn’t playing. He really will fight me.’ … He did attack me during lunch, from behind. He shoved me on the concrete.”
After the fight, the student was suspended for 10 days. But Luke said, “I was fearful to go to school.”
Then, in February, in a wood shop class, Luke said he was harassed by the teacher, Floyd Binkley.
In class one day, Binkley repeated a joke, saying something like: “Don’t put Mountain Dew and Pepsi in the same fridge, or they’ll turn gay.”
“He said this looking directly at me,” Luke said. “I wanted to crawl under the desk. It wasn’t fair.”
Luke said Binkley also mimicked his voice and told the whole class Luke was getting an F in the class.
Luke felt he wasn’t getting anywhere by complaining to the school administration, and he sought legal help from ACLU attorney Shelbi Day.
“In our view, the school district should have intervened much sooner and put a stop to it,” Day said. “It shouldn’t have taken Luke getting attacked and getting harassed by a teacher and us getting involved to get results.”
But according to Flagler County School Board Attorney Kristy Gavin, it’s not that simple.
First of all, according to Gavin’s investigations, Binkley’s statement was inappropriate but not directed at Luke; he was just repeating a joke he had heard.
“I can’t control what another person perceives,” Gavin said. “(Luke’s) perception was that the statement was made about him. And it wasn’t.”
She also said the school district did, in fact, respond. The bullying student was suspended. Then, when Luke felt uncomfortable in Binkley’s class, he was assisted with online classes.
The current district policy, Gavin said, uses language that many districts have adopted from the state. Essentially, it says no bullying of anyone is to be tolerated. In Gavin’s mind, that includes lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender students, and therefore no specifics are needed. The ACLU wants the groups enumerated.
In any case, all Gavin can do is recommend that the School Board reconsider its policy; the board members have the final say.
The FPC Gay-Straight Alliance is working a series of morning announcements to promote awareness. The first announcement, which has already been filmed and could air at the school this week, features a public apology from Binkley.
George Griffin, president of the Volusia Flagler chapter of the ACLU, has been involved in the case, as well, and he said he hopes Luke can be an inspiration for other kids who are bullied, especially in light of recent suicides that drew national media attention.
“Luke is a strong kid,” Griffin said. “What we see with a lot of kids is they take a stand for themselves, but they can only do that for so long. They wear down.
“ … We don’t want to get to the point where kids give up and take it and become despondent. Luke is a good model for students stepping up.”
Currently 2 Responses
- Kristy Gavin (who was hired by the Board as Flagler Schools first ever in-house attorney, with no competition, and no other candidates interviewed) is PAID to help cover up that the Flagler Schools neither implement nor enforce their anti-bullying codes, which they only wrote in the first place because they had to in order to get state and federal money. There's no oversight of whether the codes get implemented and enforced; the only requirement is that incidents are reported. Any incident not reported officially did not happen, though of course the victim knows better. The teacher Floyd Binkley not only repeated anti-gay slurs in class and led other students in laughing over those slurs in Luke Herbert's presence; after Luke reported the anti-gay harassment to an assistant principal, Binkley retaliated against him by announcing in class that everybody would be getting an A, except for Luke who would be getting an F. The law and the school's policy say that Binkley should have been dismissed. Who has ultimate authority to dismiss a teacher? Superintendent Janet Valentine. Who is Valentine's executive secretary? Floyd Binkley's wife, Liz Binkley. Things that Kristy Gavin won't tell you!
- Once again we see an example of how the solution avoids the source of abuse, and instead, makes the victim find his own solution by self advocating. Luke Herbert has to pull himself out of a public school where he is a viable, intelligent member of the community. It is a travesty when a teacher, Floyd Binkley, is allowed to make any such derogatory comments, whether in reference to the above mentioned student, or in vague sense targeting the gay community. Such misuse of his stature and power sets a precedence for all the students who look up to a person in his position of authority. It justifies comments such as his. When school attorney, Kristy Gavin, stated that she "cannot control what another person perceives" is a gross misunderstanding of what the real problem is. The teacher should never had made any remarks that resembled gay discimination. One has to be accountable for his actions, and Gavin seems to be flitting around the problem instead of hitting it at its core.
The punishment does not fit the crime. To simply have to make a public apology is a slap on the hand in this day and age where bullying and abuse of power runs rampant.
The solution lies in more stringent anti-bullying laws, and teacher eduction about how to handle ones self when encountering bullying or being the bully themselves.
I am proud of Luke, and he did step up. It is the school districts turn, now, to step up.
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