The ACLU has filed suit against Ponce de Leon High School in Florida on behalf of several students who have been forbidden from any form of expressive support for gay rights – t-shirts, buttons, even a rainbow symbol on a bookbag or a notebook. The school board is taking the bizarre position that any such symbol is evidence that students belong to an “illegal organization” and that all pro-gay speech is inherently disruptive.
The ACLU sent a letter to the school board on behalf of a student named Heather Gillman and another student who was suspended for 5 days for such expression. The school attorney’s response letter was absolutely bizarre. The ACLU had given him a list of statements like “Gay? Fine with me” and symbols like traditional gay rights rainbow symbols and asked for clarification on which ones the school would prohibit. Their response:
Because of the occurrences at Ponce de Leon School over the last several months, none of the phrases, symbols, or images contained in your November 2, 2007, letter would bepermitted to be worn by students at Ponce de Leon School. The School Board and the
administration of Ponce de Leon School have a duty to all students to protect the learning
environment. Just as anti-gay speech, clothing and symbols would not be tolerated, neither
would the items you have requested.
They further said that using pro-gay symbols is evidence of membership in “secret/illegal organizations.”
Also, said symbols were used and can further be used by select students to show participation in an illegal organization as defined by the School Board…
As you know, Illegal organizations are defined by the School Board as any attempt to use the school day for activities that are not school related or school sponsored. Illegal organizations
are, therefore, prohibited as they interfere with the educational process.
Talk about overly broad! By their definition, a Nike symbol conveys membership in an illegal organization and must be banned. According to the legal complaint, this all began in September when a lesbian student at the school was harassed by a group of students. She complained to a teacher about it and was then called into the principal’s office and harangued for being gay:
Upon information and belief, at the end of the school day on Monday, September 10,2007, Defendant Davis called Jane Doe into his office to discuss the incident on the previous Friday. Defendant Davis asked Jane Doe if she had told the teacher’s aide that she was a lesbian. Jane Doe answered “yes” in order to give context to the taunting. He then asked, “are
you a lesbian?” Jane Doe answered yes. He explained that Jane Doe should not be gay and she should not tell people she is gay. Mr. Davis then instructed Jane Doe not to talk with the “middle school” girls. Defendant Davis also told Jane Doe that “gay pride” was a disgrace to the school.
And it just gets worse:
14. Upon infOlmation and belief, Defendant Davis’s admonishments against Jane Doe became publicly known among the student body. Some students began writing “GP” or “Gay Pride” on their arms to show support for Jane Doe. On or about Tuesday, September 11, 2007, a rumor stalted among the students that Defendant Davis had invited an antigay preacher to speak at a mandatory assembly on Wednesday, September 12,2007. The rumor was partly confirmed by a silent bulletin on the classroom video monitors showing that there was going to be a “morality assembly” at the end of the day Wednesday.
15. Upon information and belief, during lunchtime on Wednesday, September 12,2007, a group offriends ofJane Doe discussed the idea of peacefully walking out of the assembly in protest.
16. The “morality assembly” occurred on Wednesday, September 12,2007, and proceeded without incident. No students walked out of the assembly.
17. Upon information and belief, during the days after the assembly, Defendant Davis called in about a dozen students to interrogate them about the “GP” and “Gay Pride” writings that some students were displaying on their anns and school materials and about the rumored walkout of the assembly. During those meetings, Defendant Davis instructed students not to wear a rainbow belt and or to write “Gay Pride” or “GP” on their arms or notebooks.
18. One of the students that Defendant Davis called into his office during the days after the assembly is Heather’s cousin, who is also a student at Ponce de Leon High School. Upon information and belief, Defendant Davis interrogated Heather’s cousin about her sexual orientation and about the sexual orientation of other students at the school. Defendant Davis also stated something to the effect of being gay was not right and that being gay is against the Bible. He further stated that he hoped that Heather’s cousin would not “go down that road” of being gay. He then instructed her not to discuss her sexual orientation with any students at the school, not to say “gay pride” or write it on her body or school materials, and not to wear gay themed clothing, including her rainbow-colored belt. Defendant Davis explained to Heather’s cousin that if she were to do any of these things, he would suspend her from school.
19. Upon information and belief, on or about Friday, September 21, 2007, and Monday, September 24,2007, Defendant Davis suspended a handful of students, including Heather’s cousin, for five school days each for expressing their support for the fair treatment of gays and lesbians. To at least one student, Heather’s cousin, and her parent, Defendant Davis explained that he was suspending the student for: (1) belonging to a “secret society,” (2) threatening to walk out of the assembly, and (3) disrupting the school by being part of a gay protest. Heather heard about the suspensions and Defendant Davis’s prohibitions of student expression supporting the fair treatment of gays and lesbians from her cousin and a few other students.
Absolutely outrageous. This is a school in serious legal jeopardy, with a principal who needs to be fired immediately.