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Principal ‘outs’ gay student PDF Print E-mail
Written by Elgin Jones   
Thursday, 19 May 2011

karlton-o-johnson-3.jpgPOMPANO BEACH — Blanche Ely High School principal Karlton O. Johnson, accused of “outing” a gay student and threatening to suspend her and her gay friend for holding hands on campus, is coming under fire for his actions.

Broward County Commissioner Kristen Jacobs, who represents Pompano Beach, where the school is located, learned of the incident after reading a story posted Monday on the South Florida Times Web site.

“I am outraged,” Jacobs said in an interview Tuesday. “Holding hands is the one thing that is completely acceptable in our society.”

Jacobs met with Johnson Tuesday to express concern and seek an explanation. 

Attorney Barry Butin, who co-chairs the Broward County chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union’s (ACLU) legal panel, described the situation as “disturbing.”

“Freedom of expression is just one of the things that it may violate. If the students are suspended or disciplined in any way, we would take action if asked,” Butin said. “They are minors and their parents would have to decide.”

Community activist Michael Rajner, who serves on the school district’s diversity committee, is calling for Johnson to be suspended and for a thorough investigation.”

“His actions were reckless and potentially dangerous, without any understanding of the potential harm he may have caused by outing these students. Many gay youth become suicidal after being outed and the school district must intervene and link these families to counseling services,” Rajner said.

Johnson did not respond to several e-mails and phone calls seeking comment. But Broward Schools Superintendent James Notter has announced there would be a thorough investigation of the students’ claims.

The probe will include an allegation from the student who sent the e-mail that the principal threatened her with suspension for doing so.

WHAT HAPPENED

lesbians_holding_hands.jpgSouth Florida Times is not identifying the students, who are an interracial couple, one a junior, the other a senior. Both have good grades and one is an honor student.

The students said they were holding hands while walking to class on May 3, when Johnson confronted them and took them to his office.

“We were walking to class when he rolled up on his golf cart and said, ‘Didn’t I tell you two to stop doing  that?’ and then he took us to his office,” one of the girls told South Florida Times. “He gave us a speech and then separated us before calling our parents, which was wrong. My mother already knew but my friend’s mom didn’t know she is into girls.”

One of the teens said Johnson had warned them about holding hands on previous occasions but they continued anyway because straight couples were allowed to do so without incident.

One student complained to school officials in an e-mail.

“There has been a situation in my upcoming (sic) school, Blanche Ely High, dealing with discrimination against the gay/lesbian community,” the student wrote in her e-mail. “Our principal here has tried to suspend me and my friend for holding hands. And I would like to know if such actions are necessary for something so fragile.”

The e-mail was sent to all School Board members and several district officials and the complaint was forwarded to North Area Superintendent Sharon Airaghi.

Airaghi sent the student a letter on May 13 stating that Johnson was within his right to act as he did and that he had violated no district policies by his warning to them.

“However, let me take this opportunity to share with you that our District operates under what is termed as ‘site-based/school-based’ management system. This means that the principal, within the guidelines of District’s policies, has jurisdiction to create in-house measures that impact the entire school. These measures fall under the principal’s purview as site-based manager,” Airaghi wrote.

“It is my understanding that the holding of hands on campus is not an acceptable practice at Blanche Ely High School. This practice is applicable to all students, regardless of age, race, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, marital status, national origin, religious sects, as indentified in School Board’s Nondiscrimination Policy,” she added in her letter.

Johnson is garnering support from an unlikely source: the Rev. Oneal Dozier, senior pastor of the Worldwide Christian Center Church in Pompano Beach.

Dozier has been critical of Johnson in the past over a variety of issues but says he stands behind the principal in this instance.

“I am surprised there is not a clear policy that prohibits all kids from hugging, kissing or holding hands,” Dozier told South Florida Times. “He should be commended for trying to make the school a better environment for learning.”

But Kris Drumm, director of Youth and Family for Sunshine Social Service Inc., takes a dim view of Johnson’s rebuke of the students.

“I think that it’s a homophobic reaction from the principal because clearly they are not suspending boys and girls for holding hands, only gays,” said Drumm, whose organization provides services to the gay community. “We are talking about holding hands here, not kissing or some other activity."  Drumm says she is particularly concerned that the school district supports “outing” one of the students – revealing her sexuality to her parents.

“It’s irresponsible because these kids are literally being put in danger,” she said. “I see it all the time. The parents are not prepared to hear this information and the youths end up abused or homeless after being thrown out of the house. This is serious.”

 

Pictured Above:   Blanche Ely High School Principal Karlton O. Johnson

Comments (5)Add Comment
Parents should be informed of all aspects of child's behavior
written by Michael Ray, May 24, 2011
As a parent, I want to know if my child is romantically involved with another student. Romantic relationships have a huge impact on one's physical, emotional and mental health. If we adults have difficulty managing such feelings (and we do), children even more so. This is why parents need to be informed of such a development. The school informs them of everything else (grades, behavior, suspensions, money owed, field trips,etc...), why not this too? Are we not constantly told that PARENTS SHOULD BE INVOLVED? The principal did the right thing by telling the parents.
Teacher
written by Scott, May 21, 2011
Mr. Johnson,
Your actions are a tremendous embarrassment to educators. If you are a school principal who pays attention, you know students have so much to figure out and sort through in their young lives. As we've witnessed with the Rutgers student earlier this year (and numerous others), people's actions cause great consequence. Your actions are dangerous and clearly indicate you are not ready to be in charge of a school or influence students. We're all role models, Mr. Johnson; we don't get to choose that. The only choice we get to make is WHAT KIND of role model we'll be. Young people are paying attention and wanting to know how we handle ourself. You've taken the focus off of education and put it on something that can have catastrophic results.
...
written by Tiger4Life, May 20, 2011
So many people are unaware of the REAL issues that parents are dealing with at BEHS. This is not about gay or straight, black or white, christain or non-christain etc. It's about Johnson being on a power trip! It's about Johnson making his own rules!! This is about Johnson intimidating people!! This is about Johnson bullying!! This is about excessive punishment for certain people while others face NO punishment. This is about FAIR treatment regardless of anything else!! Let me put this in perspective of what this is about to many parents at BEHS: last year about 15 boys had an egg fight, all were caught on security tape, only TWO were suspended while the others had ZERO consequences. Dozens of athletes have dreadlocks, TWO were told if they didn't cut them off, they couldn't play sports! Where is hair length or style in the code of conduct? And these two young men WERE INTIMIDATED into cutting their dreads off! This is about fair and equal punishment and punishment that fits the crime!! To me personally, the fact that these two girls are lesbians is irrelevant. What I am saying is this man needs to be stopped and removed from Ely! I am not a gay/lesbian activist nor anti-gay/lesbian. I personally don't care how people chose to live their lives. It has nothing to do with me, its not my business. For those that want to pat this man on the back, do some research on him first! I know several parents that have gone to the district with complaints on this man. Some have even had meetings. Nothing has ever been done. It is unfortunate that getting the media involved is what it takes to get some attention to what is REALLY going on at Ely. I say, KUDOS to this family for standing up to him and forcing an investigation!!!
...
written by Mary, May 20, 2011
This really sounds like the principal is anti-gay. I mean, really, no on else is holding hands?! Not too unpset over the 'outing' part. By openly holding hands she has outed herself. Now, if it comes to light that the parents are not happy with this, then that is a different story. If I was one of their parents I would be calling the school board and a lawyer right now.
Really?
written by The Milkman, May 20, 2011
With all the challenges and obstacles facing students and teachers in our public schools these days, this principal decided to make a federal case out of two girls holding hands? Really? You can't tell me that the straight kids in that school aren't doing the same thing, no matter what the school board's "official position" is. This school district and this principal are going to get sued, and rightly so.

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