dropped balls

Did The ACLU Really Rescue Bullied Florida Teen Luke Herbert?

Luke Herbert, the Florida high schooler who suffered bullying from students and teachers a like, supposedly secured a decent settlement agreement with Flagler Palm Coast High School via the ACLU, which finagled a deal where the school would implement LGBT anti-bullying policies, his shop teacher Floyd Binkley would apologize, and Herbert would get to complete his education online and have the option to return in the fall. So how come his No. 1 alleged tormenter is still roaming the halls? And why does Luke look like he’s still being victimized?

Herbert began at Flagler Palm Coast High in August. The anti-gay bullying, which he suffered in middle school, began again immediately.

To his knowledge, the school made no general announcements — whether in assemblies, over loudspeaker systems, or in memos — to the effect that anti-gay bullying would not be tolerated. Luke says that right from the beginning of the school year, “people looked at me weird and laughed at me.” At one pep rally shortly after the start of the term, he found himself all alone, with no friends. Indeed, Luke lost a lot of friends going into high school because, he says, “talking any more to the gay kid wasn’t cool.” One of his close friends stopped associating with him after an incident in the lunch room. “There was a group of students sitting at the table. They were saying that they didn’t want to sit with me, that I was a freak and a faggot, and that they didn’t want to breathe the same air as me. After that, I always sat alone. I felt depressed.”

On the bus to and from the school, Luke was targeted for persecution because he was gay. “They wouldn’t make room for me in any of the seats,” he says, “and the bus isn’t allowed to move until everybody is sitting down. So I’d be standing there, and everybody would be making fun of me. The driver knew that was going on. That was another reason I didn’t want to get up in the morning.” Luke says that when he was being hounded in school, no other student ever came to his defense, by summoning an adult, or in any other way.

[…] At the school, in the fall, a student in Luke’s science class started harassing and stalking Luke. Their science teacher had placed them in the same working group within that class. Luke complained to the science teacher about the bullying, and the teacher promised to “work on” getting Luke assigned to a different group, but never carried through on the promise. In the class, the student abused and demeaned Luke by saying things like “You’re a fag!” and “I don’t want to work with you.” Passing Luke in the corridors between classes, this student would assault and sometimes even physically attack his victim. On one occasion, a dean saw Luke’s tormentor following him into a restroom, in an attitude of spoiling to provoke a physical fight. The student said to the dean “I’ll fight him if I want to.”

The student began stalking and threatening Luke over the internet. Via Facebook, he sent Luke messages such as “You’re in for a beat down” and “I’m going to take you out of school in a body bag.” “It was pretty scary,” Luke says now. Somebody started a “Beating up Luke” Facebook page, which got “liked” by about two dozen people. Among them were students Luke knew to be friends with his tormentor.

Here is what Luke remembers of that tormentor’s savage physical attack against him, which occurred outside the building, on school grounds. “He came out of nowhere and shoved me down onto the cement. Pretty much, I blacked out; my head had hit the ground.” Luke says that as he was recovering awareness of what was going on, he saw a worker at the school coming to his rescue and then separating his assailant from him. The attack happened shortly before Thanksgiving break. Over Thanksgiving, the attacker sent Luke a message “Ha ha ha! How are you feeling?”

His science class tormenter was suspended for 10 days. And when he returned, he and Luke were supposed to be placed in separate classes. Didn’t happen. Because of privacy laws the school cannot name Luke’s bully, but supposedly Flagler Palm Coast High’s assistant principal/dean of discipline Travis Lee “told Luke Herbert’s family that the stalker and attacker had a prior record and would not be returning to the school, that he was going to be sent to a special teaching facility for delinquents. … However that might be, the attacker was back at FPC following his ten day suspension. And not just back at the school, but placed right back into Luke’s same classroom.”

As for shop teacher Binkley, who Luke says singled him out when making anti-gay remarks in front of the class? He’s married to Liz Binkley, the executive secretary to Flagler County superintendent Janet Valentine. Well! Maybe that explains the baby slap on the wrist he received. The ACLU got Flagler County officials to force Binkley to apologize, publicly, though there doesn’t seem to be any timeline for that to happen, nor a draft of that apology in the works.

Moreover, about that supposed grand agreement the ACLU mitigated for Luke? Politicus USA‘s Scott Rose, who’s carefully reported on Luke’s story, says it’s a “feeble, empty resolution.” Further:

The agreement provides no financial compensation whatsoever to victim Luke Herbert. Luke appears not to be fully informed of his rights. He also appears to be in the dark about his possible mental health care needs – now and in the future — resulting from the severe anti-gay persecution he has been forced to endure. I asked whether the school had offered him access to a psychologist’s professional attentions. What adequately-informed, responsible adult, hearing Luke’s story would not think he might need a psychologist at this time and/or later, as a result of what has been inflicted on him? The school offered no such services to Luke, and his ACLU attorneys have done nothing, nothing at all, to see that he will have means to pay for his current and future mental health care needs.

The terms of the agreement are in many other ways inadequate. The school, for instance, does not have specific LGBT-related wording in its anti-bullying policies. The School Board would have to approve such wording. The ACLU, as happened, settled for the district “recommending” to the School Board the adding of protections for “sexual orientation” and “gender identity or expression” to the Student Code of Conduct and the school district’s bullying and harassment policy. There is no guarantee that the Board will add those protections. And, should it decide not to add them, no penalty will be imposed on it.

[…] Had there been any actual legal case involved, a client might be talking with another attorney about bringing a legal malpractice case against the ACLU. The ACLU certainly did not get involved in Luke’s case, solely to use him as a poster boy to attract donations afterwards. However, it is able to use Luke’s case to attract donations for itself, while Luke will remain entirely uncompensated. With so unsatisfactory an outcome to the negotiations, further investigations into all aspects of relations between the parties is merited.

 

It’s hard to fault an organization like the ACLU, which stepped in on Luke’s behalf (after being contacted by his mother). Without this group’s services, Luke might still be just another unreported statistic of anti-gay bullying. But as Rose notes in his reporting, the agreement the ACLU reached for him does seem … suspect. The people responsible for tormenting Luke are no worse for the wear. Luke, meanwhile, isn’t even back in a regular classroom setting: he’s learning at home. And when (or if) he does return to his school in the fall, the student accused of so brutally bullying him will be roaming the halls, unrestricted. The ACLU “has reached an agreement in Luke’s case that leaves his persecutors unpunished, the schools unsafe and the victim uncompensated,” writes Rose. “By cooperating with Flagler Schools and keeping very tight control over its messaging, the ACLU has wrapped this matter up promptly and is able to use Luke as a poster boy to attract donations, declaring victory where there isn’t one.”