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Is This The End Of Luke Herbert’s High School Bullying Nightmare?

Luke Herbert — the Florida high school student whose shop teacher Floyd Binkley warned other students about turning soda gay by storing it in the same fridge — will receive a public apology from the teacher who harassed him, as well as Flagler County School District offering Luke options to make the rest of his high school career a “safe” one. (Luke stopped attending classes to avoid torment.) The move comes only after the ACLU got involved and threatened to throw down on behalf of Luke, who was also victimized by classmates in school and on Facebook; he was physically attacked by a classmate who used anti-gay slurs. As you might expect, reports to administrators about his bullying fell on deaf ears. Meanwhile, Flagler County is also going to work on creating a GSA and will add sexual orientation and gender identity to its anti-bullying/harassment policy. Is this enough? relays the details of the settlement:

After attempting unsuccessfully to change classes, Luke quit going to school two months ago. In the meantime, Luke’s mother hired Phil Chanfrau, an attorney, the American Civil Liberties Union got involved, the school investigated, and earlier today, the ACLU and School Board Attorney Kristy Gavin said a settlement was reached: Binkley will publicly apologize, though Luke is not returning to FPC this year. He’ll continue his work through Florida Virtual School, and will have the option of either returning to FPC next fall, transferring to Matanzas or continuing with virtual school.

School officials, according to the ACLU, acknowledged that Luke’s harassment had not been handled as swiftly as it should have been and several missteps had occurred: a conference between him and a guidance counselor was also misinterpreted as a confidential conversation, rather than a call to action, which caused a delay in the school’s response.

The district officially reprimanded the teacher who harassed Luke in class, in writing—but no suspension—and agreed to a series of actions to make amends for the impact the bullying had on Luke and prevent any further bullying and harassment of Flagler County School District students. The district agreed to recommend that the school board add protections for “sexual orientation” and “gender identity or expression” to the Student Code of Conduct and the school district’s bullying and harassment policy

As for Binkley’s apology?

Binkley, a 21-year veteran, has apologized privately to Luke. But the student asked that the apology, like the offense, be made publicly. That will take place by way of a video public service announcement featuring Binkley, and that will be added to the school’s website. Luke was asked if his name needed be made part of the announcement. Luke said that was not necessary: only the acknowledgment, from the teacher, that an offense had taken place, and that it was directed at a student.

No, no. Make that man post his apology on the web for all to see. Because apparently common sense doesn’t discourage bullies. Even adult ones. Maybe a public shaming will.

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  • The sane Francis

    This is what happens when public attention and pressure is brought on egregious situations. The problem is, it shouldn’t take that for these school boards to do the right thing, or for parents to be aware of the actions of their kids. Hopefully these new rules are implemented and followed through, and the bigoted teacher publicly apologizes and not in a “I’m sorry if I offended anyone” way.

  • Cam

    This is why the bigots all scream that these victims are “Just trying to get attention” Especially in the South, they try to paint shining a light on things as something bad. That is because they know that public attention will focus attention on their bigotry.

    Good for this kid;s mother. Perhaps along with the apology the teacher should be billed for any therapy this kid needs.

  • Scott Rose

    I just searched the Flagler County Schools website for the terms “gay” and “LGBT” and got zero results.

  • kernelt

    I Love public shamming just like in the old day (I think).

  • Frederick

    I feel very sorry for what this young man was put through;at least he had his mom’s support in seeking justice, and he won’t be subjected to the bullying any longer. The teacher’s apology is not enough; he needs to resign or be terminated. My partner and I used to live in what’s referred to as Florida’s First Coast (i.e. Northeast FL, including Flagler county). Flagler county is in transition; a few years ago, it was the fastest growing county in the entire U.S. (most of the new residents were relocating there from the Northeast, many were from New York). However, the county is originally a Southern redneck, good-old-boy community and these people are still running the school system. Therefore, sadly, it doesn’t surprise me that it took the threat of a lawsuit by the ACLU to force them to right this wrong. Hopefully, this will also force the Flagler county school system to adopt anti-harrassment protections for LGBT students if they don’t already have these policies.

  • FPC Student

    Okay i got to FPC & this that teacher is awesome. he wasnt making fun of him,he was just messing around. Honestly Luke could have been mature & walked up to the teacher & said ,hey i dont appreciate what you said in class. But not he turned around & went to the news, he is bringing more attention to himself. When he was at FPC thats all he did was draw attention to himself.I have NOTHING at all against gays because my uncle is gay so i dont have problem with it at all,i think gays are wonderful people but Luke just completly blew this out of proportion.& one last thought when your on the news arent you supposed to act like yourself? yeah cause he was not like himself on the news with the button shirt stuff so i think he has some growing up to do, because he could have just said something to the teacher instead of doing this whole thing with the news. Sorry Luke but that was really immature of you. & now i miss that teacher because of him, he was a great teacher, alot of us miss him.

  • Scott Rose

    Look – FTP student. A teacher in a position of authority and responsibility for a class must help to create a safe environment in that classroom. The teacher, Floyd Binkley, is not “awesome,” given that on multiple occasions, he was creating an atmosphere of fear and loathing in which Luke Herbert had to suffer. Your wordy attempt to “blame the victim” and that is what you are doing . . . assigning blame to a victim, for something outrageous done to that victim . . will not wash here. The way Luke dresses in school, or out of school, is his free choice, and has no bearing on the rest of what happened in this. The teacher had said something loathsome, against a minority of which Luke is a member, and your suggestion is that he should have just gone up to the teacher and said something? That shows what you know about being on the receiving end of bigotry and discrimination. It was *not* immature of Luke to seek assistance and defense from decent human beings. I’ll add that this comment made by “FTP Student” is suspect, because all sources I’ve seen report that the teacher, Flody Binkley, is still on the job. He received a letter of reprimand, but is still on the job.

  • Scott Rose
    Luke Herbert is a gay, out, 15-year-old student in northeast Florida’s Flagler County Schools.

    When about 8 or 9, he was aware of feeling “different,” in a way that he eventually came to understand meant he was gay. He reports that his family acknowledges his orientation and is “very accepting” of him. Yet, he says “I sort of regret being gay, because it has brought me a lot of problems. Not that I have a choice.”

    Asked whether he thought Flagler County adults in general are accepting of gay people, Luke said no. The U.S. Congressman for this district, John L. Mica, has voted against every single gay rights measure ever presented to him for a vote. The KKK has distributed hate literature in the county, telling persons “qualified” to apply for KKK membership that they will help “stop the moral destruction of our culture by homosexuals.” Luke reports he has never heard any adult in the Flagler County Schools say the least positive thing about gay people.

    He told me that when he entered Flagler Palm Coast High School in late August, 2010, the maltreatment he suffered for being gay reached “a whole different level.” Already in the middle school, though, he was a target of virulent anti-gay bigotry. One female student in his math class at that middle school, for example, engaged in a campaign of taunting him with insults, calling him “girly-boy,” “gay” and “faggot.” Some of that taunting occurred with the math teacher present. Because of where they each lived, Luke and the female student had to walk to and from school along the same route, though Luke did not intend or wish to walk anywhere near her.

    One day, the girl attacked Luke, throwing a soda can and then sand at his head and attempting violently to wrench his book bag away from him. A passer-by in a car stopped and yelled at the girl, that she should stop attacking. “The police were called,” says Luke. Afterwards, Luke complained to school officials. A guidance counselor held a meeting with the two students. According to Luke, the final word from school officials was that there “really was not much” they could do about the female student’s persistent campaign of anti-gay harassment and violence against him.

    Luke entered 9th grade at Flagler Palm Coast High School in late August, 2010. 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.

    Already in early October, Luke was not doing well academically. A guidance counselor set up a meeting with Luke, with his mother present. Luke says that during that meeting, because his mother was there, it was “kind of awkward” to say he was getting bullied for being gay. The counselor told him “You have to finish high school to be successful in life.” Luke told the counselor he wanted to be transferred out of his science class (where, with a teacher in the room, he was being tortured by an anti-gay bully); a transfer never happened.

    Among the factors that eventually led to Luke’s no longer going to school were two major persecution campaigns directed against him, one by a student and one by his shop teacher Floyd Binkley. After Luke stopped attending school, his mother Dorene Davenport, who works days, secured representation from attorney Philip J. Chanfrau, Jr., who subsequently became co-counsel with the ACLU of Florida.

    Angela Hoy, publisher, journalist and victim’s advocate says: “I, personally, have always been under the impression that the ACLU is far more concerned about the ACLU and any publicity they can get for their own fund-raising purposes than they are about ensuring that victims are rightfully compensated.”

    This reporter, having become aware of Luke’s plight though initial media reports of his ordeal, contacted him first through Facebook, expressing an interest in an interview towards a published story. Luke said “What I would like to see out of this is it becoming a national news story. I guess we will see what happens but that’s kinda my goal but if you would like to help out with my case contact my attorney shelbi day with the ACLU.”

    The ACLU was at first unwilling to give me interview access to Luke. Though Luke had said he wanted his story reported nationally, Derek Newton of the ACLU told me on the phone “We are not looking to make his story national.” I persisted. They eventually agreed to a three-way interview, with ACLU attorney Shelbi Day on the line. Ambiguity adheres to the ACLU’s initial refusal of an interview.

    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?”

    Luke’s attacker was suspended from school for ten days. The school assured Luke that upon his return, his stalker and attacker would not be placed back in his same classroom. Nevertheless, with apparently depraved indifference towards Luke’s emotional and physical well-being, Flagler County Schools had this violent juvenile delinquent and anti-gay monster placed back in the same classroom with Luke.

    A student who wins a science contest or a football game finds his name widely published, but no media reports on Luke’s stalker and attacker have included that attacker’s name. I interviewed ACLU attorney Shelbi Day, alone, prior to my 3-way interview with her and Luke. I asked her Luke’s attacker’s name. “I don’t know it,” alleged Ms. Day. During the 3-way interview, I attempted to ask Luke his stalker and attacker’s name. Day gave Luke no chance to respond. With lightening speed and an admonishing tone, she declared “Luke will not be answering that question.” She then elaborated at length, that, allegedly, Luke does not want to reveal his attacker’s name, and that this should be respected. Questions arise. Why did Day not allow Luke to answer for himself? Why when I first asked Ms. Day for Luke’s attacker’s name did she allege that she did not know it, instead of saying that Luke does not want it known?

    I asked Luke whether he had ever heard his shop teacher Floyd Binkley say anything positive about gay people. He had not. For reference at this link, there is a video of Luke being interviewed by one of his local television stations. The reader can judge whether Floyd Binkley would have been aware that Luke is gay. Binkley sells sodas and other snacks to the students. On at least three separate occasions, with Luke present, Binkley told the class variations on the idea that one must not put Pepsi together with Mountain Dew in the same refrigerator or the sodas will turn gay. The last straw for Luke was when Binkley made one of these defamatory statements while staring directly at him. Luke has said that Binkley then approached him in the classroom and mimicked his voice and his mannerisms. Other students joined in the anti-gay harassment.

    As the class continued, Luke left to see an assistant principal, who told him that Binkley is “an older gentleman, who is retiring next year.” The assistant principal said he would talk with Binkley. Luke, meanwhile, returned to the classroom that same day. Binkley did not fill him in on what had been taught while he was gone. Luke says that previously, Binkley had never offered him any form of personalized help to understand what he had to do for the class. Towards the end of that day’s class, talk turned to grades. Mr. Binkley said that everybody in the class would be getting an A, except for Luke who would be getting an F. The students laughed mockingly at Luke.

    Commenters to online articles about this story have wondered why Floyd Binkley is still entrusted with teaching students and safeguarding their well-being. My investigations have revealed what nobody in Florida has yet reported, that Floyd Binkley, the teacher who harassed his gay student, Luke, is married to the superintendent’s secretary. Yes, you read that right. Floyd Binkley is married to Liz Binkley, who is Executive Secretary to Janet Valentine, Superintendent of Flagler County Schools. Furthermore, Liz Binkley and a Kristin Binkley are listed as financial contributors to the Flagler County Education Foundation, which raises money for Flagler’s public schools. Could these be the reasons Floyd Binkley is still employed by the school district? In any normal business, wouldn’t Floyd Binkley have lost his job after repeatedly verbally abusing a child in his care?

    On March 18, the ACLU put out a press release announcing it had reached “an agreement” with the Flagler County School District. The ACLU’s press announcement does not explain that Binkley’s wife works for the school district’s Superintendent; it does not even mention Binkley by name. 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.

    Then, the school alleges it sent teacher Floyd Binkley a letter of reprimand. However, Flagler County School District Attorney Kristy Gavin, as well as Superintendent Janet Valentine, are either ignoring or refusing this reporter’s multiple requests for a copy of the letter allegedly sent to Binkley. The ACLU release, without even naming Binkley, says he “has agreed to make a public apology.” Why does the ACLU appear to be protecting this teacher, who directed anti-gay ridicule at their client?

    Binkley when he speaks to the media does not specifically deny his campaign of persecution against Luke, but says that in his 21 years of teaching, he has “never” offended a student. Binkley is, in effect, obliquely denying Luke’s allegations. Moreover, Binkley and the school are mischaracterizing the anti-gay slur Binkley used as “a joke.” Binkley’s malicious anti-gay slur conveys the idea that homosexuality is undesirable and contagious. He made it to his class in front of a student known by him to be gay. Had he instead said “I bet a Jew would pay for this soda all in pennies,” Binkley would not now be having so easy a time mischaracterizing his slur as a “joke.” Binkley has said that in retrospect, he realizes his “joke,” his anti-gay slur was inappropriate. Flagler County Schools should announce widely to the public that it is keeping in its employ a teacher too stupid to realize when one of his remarks will inflict emotional distress on a student.

    Attorney Gavin has said that when Binkley’s apology is drafted, it will include a claim that Binkley intended Luke Herbert no harm. Gavin furthermore is telling the media that Binkley only made his defamatory gay soda remark once, which is at odds with Luke’s allegations that Binkley made the defamatory gay soda remarks “at least” three times and that he humiliated Luke in front of the class over the grade he would be receiving. The ACLU’s Shelbi Day does not even talk about Binkley making a specific public apology. When I questioned her about the alleged upcoming apology from Binkley, and expressed my concerns regarding its eventual contents, she told me that to help make amends, Binkley will be participating in an anti-bullying public service announcement.

    The public apology Binkley will supposedly be making, under the ACLU agreement, has not even been drafted, but in an e-mail, the school’s attorney told me “This matter has been settled.” Luke’s student-aged stalker and attacker, and his former teacher Floyd Binkley are still in the school, but Luke is completing his 9th grade via a computer-based “virtual school.” I asked him the following question; If Flagler Palm Coast High School were a totally safe and accepting environment for you today, would you prefer going there over studying through “Virtual School”? Luke’s ACLU attorney did not give him space to answer that question. She jumped in immediately and said “Luke fell behind in school, and we are happy that the school worked with us to help him get caught up, so that hopefully, he can start tenth grade on time next year.”

    ACLU attorney Shelbi Day says she hopes other school districts in Florida and around the country look at this case and strengthen their anti-bullying programs. The question arises, which would be more likely to get other school districts’ attention — this intervention, with no punishments included — or obtaining a large financial settlement from the school for the victim?

    Who could conceivably claim that justice is being done for Luke Herbert? The ACLU is seeking strenuously to control which aspects of this story reach the outside world. Shelbi Day, speaking over Luke, not giving him space to answer certain of my questions, told me that Luke is “happy” with the agreement the ACLU made with Flagler County Schools.

    I never did hear Luke say he was “happy” with the agreement. Through Facebook, Luke did once say “I might get another attorney, I’m not sure what to do yet”. After the ACLU’s Derek Newton refused me an interview with Luke, and it appeared I would not be speaking with him at all, Luke sent me this via Facebook: “I’m not even supposed to be messaging you right now but this is just between me and you. Please continue to pass along my story to anyone you can and do whatever you can to help.”

  • Linda Guyette

    I am sickened that my tax dollars are paying for ignorant teachers like we have in Flagler Cty. I was appalled when I read this story and the way Luke is being treated. It’s voting time folks and we’ll be right up there with you with our signs protesting the faculty, school board members and the sheriff dept. for putting this family through hell and God knows how many others that attend school everyday, trying to get an education and are bullied on a daily basis. And what happened to the student that hit Luke, we want to know what diciplinary action if any he rec’d? The taxpayers and parents will be watching you, FPC and others involved.

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