POMPANO BEACH – The nation’s sixth largest public school district has cleared a high school principal accused of lecturing and threatening two female students with suspension for holding hands on campus. The students say the principal also “outed” them to their parents.
The South 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 two were holding hands while walking to class on May 3 at Blanche Ely High School in Pompano Beach. School Principal Karlton Johnson confronted 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 do 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 says Johnson had warned them about holding hands on previous occasions but they continued anyway because straight couples were allowed to do so without incident. The students reacted to Johnson’s action by complaining to school officials.
“There has been a situation in my upcoming [sic] school, Blanche Ely High, dealing with discrimination against the gay/lesbian community,” one of the students wrote in an e-mail complaining to school officials. “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.”
Johnson did not respond to a phone call and an e-mail seeking comment.
The complaint was forwarded to North Area Superintendent Sharon Airaghi. On May 13, she sent the student a letter stating Johnson was within his rights and 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 a 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.”
Johnson is garnering support from an unlikely source: the Rev. Oneal Dozier, senior pastor of the Worldwide Christian Center Church in Pompano Beach. He has been critical of Johnson in the past over a variety of issues but says he stands behind the principal’s action in this situation.
“I am surprised there is not a clear policy that prohibits all kids from hugging, kissing or holding hands,” Dozier said. “He should be commended for trying to make the school a better environment for learning.”
Kris Drumm, director of Youth and Family for Sunshine Social Service Inc., has another view of the issue.
“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” or revealing a student’s sexuality.
“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.”