Three to five students were suspended following Thursday’s twin walk-out and demonstrations at Flagler Palm Coast High School and Matanzas High School in protest of a proposed bill that would outlaw certain discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity in lower grades. The students were all given school-level suspensions of one to three days, School Board Attorney Kristy Gavin said today.
At least one student involved in a fight over a Trump flag that was deployed during the FPC suspension is among those who were suspended. The flag appears to have been deployed as a provocation of the students demonstrating, and was accompanied by taunts against the students, who were repeatedly called “faggots.”
Most of the attention focused on Thursday on the suspension of Jack Petocz, the FPC junior who organized the walkout there and at schools across the state. Gavin said the student code of conduct forbids the display of flags–any flag but the Stars and Stripes–and that violation of the policy would incur discipline. Petocz said he’d brought some 150 small pride flags, the rainbow flags that symbolizes gay or LGBTQ pride, distributed them, and told students to ignore calls from faculty to put them away. Petocz was able to lead the walk-out and make a brief speech at the FPC track, where he and school principal Greg Schwartz had agreed that the demonstration would take place, then returned to class after 12 minutes. (He said he was cheated of three minutes’ worth, as the principal had agreed to 15 minutes.)
Within hours, he revealed that he’d been suspended. By mid-afternoon Monday, however, Petocz had not been informed of his suspension status. “As of now, the district has relayed no more information to my family,” he said in a 4:15 p.m. text. (A few hours after this article published, he was informed that he could return to school Tuesday, meaning that he would have been suspended two days.)
Around the same time as Petocz’s suspension Thursday, brief video clips began circulating of a confrontation on the periphery of the FPC walkout between a girl and other students as students waved a Trump flag while calling demonstrators names, the girl grabbed the flag or sought to throw it to the ground, then was held in what she and others would later describe as a chokehold by another student, who denied having held her that way. None of those directly involved–the girl and the boy who either choke-held or grabbed her, nor their parents–sought to pursue charges, either for the chokehold or the grabbing of the Trump flag. The girl said that even as she was being influenced by others to pursue charges, she did not want to ruin the boy’s future, according to a Flagler County Sheriff’s incident report. Her guardians concurred.
One of the boys involved in the altercation had been standing with School Board member Janet McDonald, according to the sheriff’s report. McDonald went to FPC with her husband, Dennis McDonald, before the demonstration, even though the demonstration was strictly a student-led and student-focused event to which the administrations of either high schools prevented community members from attending. At least one teacher not associated with Matanzas High School was turned away from campus after seeking to observe the walkout there. It isn’t clear why Dennis McDonald, who has no business at FPC, was allowed on campus. After a complaint either by a staffer or a student there, he was asked to leave. Janet McDonald was not.
The incident report details how various students involved in the altercation over anti-gay provocations and the Trump flag unfolded, listing the 15-year-old alleged victim, the 16-year-old alleged assailant, and six witnesses, all of them 15 or 16, with one 17 year old.
A school resource deputy initially spoke with the student referred to as GF (also referred to as CF in other parts of the report), the girl who was allegedly assaulted. She described a group of students unfurling the Trump flag and yelling “faggot” repeatedly at her and others. She admitted to the deputy of grabbing the flag, only for a student referred to as DN to grab her from behind and begin to choke her, as she described it. “She advised she was scared she was going ‘to die,'” the report states. “She demonstrated to me the way he grabbed her by putting his arm around her neck area common to a choke hold. GF could not remember if she was able to talk or was yelling while this was occurring.” She said the chokehold lasted 10 seconds. But another student, DN, “threatened to punch her,” again putting her in fear for her safety. (On Friday in a shelter for youths in Volusia County, a Palm Coast student was the victim of an assault by another juvenile who repeatedly used the same slur. The assailant faces hate-crime charges.)
One of the videos that circulated was the one GF took. It includes sound bytes of her saying she was taking the flag, of others insulting her and telling her to give it back as both sides exchange insults. “Then you hear what is believed to be DN say ‘fucking faggot, I’ll punch you in the fucking face, you wanna fucking run it right now,’ then DN appears in the video in a fighting stance standing in front of GF,” the report states.
LL, another student at the demonstration, told the deputy she believed the students with the Trump Flag “were there just to upset everyone at the event,” and that while GF took the flag down, she did not take possession of it. LL confronted one of the students, and described GF as “shocked but not hurt” afterward. KS, the owner of the Trump flag, confirmed bringing it and being urged by his friends to take it out. He could not remember if it actually left his hands when the girl grabbed it.
The deputy compared the student’s video to school surveillance video, which had been pulled the same day for examination. “The flag is being held by multiple people that are exiting the track area with the large crowd,” the deputy reported. “The flag then disappears and you see DN’s arm go around GF’s neck/chest area. DN lets go of GF and starts to walk away when he turns around towards GF taking what appears to be a fighting stance while raising his right arm as if he was going to strike GF. He did not strike GF, then walks away from the location.”
One student who did not witness the initial altercation–either the grabbing of the flag or the chokehold–told the deputy that he saw the girl “spit” on DN, an act DN himself told deputies did not take place. (DN was among the students suspended.) DN told the deputy he’d gone to the demonstrations, and one of his friends had brought the Trump flag, which they began to walk with when the girl grabbed it. He admitted to grabbing the girl from behind, according to the report, but said he did not choke her, nor did he intend to hurt her (he said he was protecting his friends from her), and admitted to yelling slurs “too many times to count,” he is quoted as saying in the sheriff’s report. The student said he’d received numerous Instagram messages by students calling him names.
Deputies interviewed several other students, one of whom described being “pushed into the concession stand by three unknown students, however his mother wished for the school to handle this situation and not have law enforcement involved.”
A student by the initials JC, who was not sought out by the deputies, himself went to the deputy’s office, saying he wanted to file a report. He said he was standing with Janet McDonald. When a staffer told him he had to go back to class if he was not participating in the walk-out, he began to walk with the crowd, then saw the confrontation and what he described as a “fight” near the concession stand. He described an altercation involving administrators, but when the deputy asked the administrators about it, they did not want law enforcement involved.