POMPANO BEACH — A Broward County Public Schools investigation has cleared a high school principal accused of threatening two gay students with suspension for holding hands on school grounds and outing one of them.
One of the students had complained to the district about the treatment and now several teachers who may have assisted her with the complaint are under investigation.
“The Area [Superintendent’s] Office has conducted a review into the allegations and the results at this time are ‘unfounded.’ In contacting the parent, the discourse was strictly in regard to inappropriate behavior, acts of affection, and tardiness to class,” said a statement from district spokeswoman Marsy L. Smith. “The conversation was never about identifying, labeling, or stereotyping. However, the Area, with all diligence, will continue to monitor this situation.”
That statement appears to be at odds with the student’s e-mail to the district, as well as interviews she and her mother gave to several media outlets.
District officials are not releasing any documents related to the investigation and have yet to explain why the Special Investigative Unit (SIU), which usually handles such matters, did not deal with the complaint.
Karlton O. Johnson, a principal at Blanche Ely High School in Pompano Beach, was accused of “outing” a gay student to her parent and threatening to suspend that student and her gay friend for holding hands on campus on May 3.
Just hours after the incident, one of the students sent an e-mail to school board members and district administrators complaining about the incident. That e-mail contradicts the Area Office’s conclusions.
“There has been a situation in my upcoming (sic) school, Blanche Ely High, dealing with discrimination against the gay/lesbian community. 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 student wrote in her e-mail.
“I’ve done research and it was brought to my attention that all Broward schools have a connection with the GLST (Gay, Lesbian, Straight, Trans) Organization. And that there is an Anti-Discrimination law against discrimination because of preference. Does that apply to adults? I may be a Junior in High School, but in our day and age I believe things have changed drastically from way back when. We don’t have a support group in our school but next year I plan to create one. (That is IF our “Dear” Principal allows it).”
The student signed the e-mail, “Open-Mindedly.”Johnson did not respond to several e-mails and phone calls seeking comment.South Florida Times has confirmed several teachers at the school are now under investigation to determine if they assisted or advised the student to file the discrimination complaint. If any teachers did assist the student, it is unclear whether taking action against them may constitute retaliation.
“The law is clear when it comes to workplace discrimination but, in a teacher-student situation, it’s vague,” said civil rights attorney Randy A. Fleischer, who served on Broward County’s Human Rights Board for over 15 years. “I would think a teacher has a right, if not an obligation, to assist a student when they complain about discrimination. It’s interesting how they would investigate the teachers instead of enforcing fairness policies and assisting the students.”
District officials have not commented on the investigation of the teachers or released the case files. Nonetheless, despite the conclusion that the allegations are “unfounded,” the district said the matter continues to be under review and that counseling is being made available to the two students.
“Counselors from the District’s Student Support Services Department, as well as school-based counselors, have been made available to the two students and they will remain readily accessible and available to support and assist as needed. The Diversity & Cultural Outreach Department will review and assess the needs of the school and develop an action plan for implementation expediently,” the district statement further said.
The district’s announcement that the complaint against Johnson was unfounded brought a sharp reaction from one gay rights advocate.
“While corrective or punitive actions may not have yet been handed down to Blanche Ely’s principal for actions relating to the ‘hand holding’ incident, the student’s courage and leadership to bring the issue to the attention of the School Board have served as a major catalyst for positive change,” said Michael Rajner, who expressed concern about the incident in an e-mail to South Florida Times.
“Should any District staff attempt to obstruct measures intended to protect any student or teacher, I will not hesitate to call on the School Board of Broward County to take any and all necessary action,” Rajner said.