In mid-March a gay student formerly at Flagler Palm Coast High School and the school district agreed that subsequent to the student feeling bullied by his shop teacher, the teacher would make a formal, public apology. The teacher, Floyd Binkley, had told a joke about Mountain Dew and Pepsi turning gay if both cans were placed in the fridge together.
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Prior to that incident, the student—Luke Herbert, who is 15, and who’s took his case to various media before the ACLU took it up on his behalf—had been physically bullied by another student, who was suspended. Herbert decided not to return to FPC and take virtual school classes instead.
The school this week posted Binkley’s apology as part of a public service announcement about bullying and harassment, produced in part by the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance club, and in part by the school’s television production program. (An earlier version of this story ascribed the production entirely to the Gay-Straight Alliance.) Kevin McCarthy, an assistant principal and the sponsor of the alliance, said the club had been planning to produce a public service announcement regardless of the incident. The Binkley case was then incorporated into it. (See McCarthy’s fuller explanation below.)
The video itself was the product of many hands, rewrites and reevaluations. The video, posted only at the school’s website and linked to the high school’s home page, provides no context about the incident or background to the video’s production. The manner of its posting and sloppiness of its production appear to downplay as much as possible the video’s origins and purpose.
The home-page link refers to it merely as a “public service announcement,” without reference to bullying, harassment or the Binkley case. It does not identify the five students as members of the Gay Straight Alliance. The page on which it is posted does not contain any text except for a tiny line above the video that reads, “bullying PSA.” Binkley himself does not appear until the final fifth of the video. The title of the video, once it gets rolling–“Anti-Harassment & Anti-Discrimination”–misspells the word harassment. And Jacob Oliva, the school principal, who opens the nearly six-minute video, looks distinctly uncomfortable delivering his lines, which he is reading rapidly, almost without pause betweens sentences, through a teleprompter.
“It is one of FPC’s goals for all of our students, families and faculty to feel respected, valued and appreciated here at FPC’s campus,” Oliva says, without mentioning the Herbert incident or its disposition at any point. If someone is being targeted or single out, Oliva says, “we really need your help. Please seek out the advice from [an] adult, an administrator, a guidance counselor, teacher, somebody that you feel comfortable with so we can help you maintain your high expectations.” (See the full transcript below.)
The video then moves to a student—a black student with glasses—trying to get into his locker, and looking afraid. He is set upon by a group of five students—four boys and a girl—who surround him, scratch his hair and slap him around as one of the boys says, “Hello there, queer boy. How’re you doing?” The victim and the bully exchange a few words, some of them unintelligible, while a few other students in the distance appear unmoved by the incident. The video then switches to five members of the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance who, in turn, recite the school district’s anti-discrimination policy, before leading into Binkley’s statement and apology. Binkley’s statement is less hurried than Oliva’s, but it is abruptly cut off at the end, in the middle of a word.
The full video:
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According to Kristy Gavin, the school district’s attorney, Hebert had agreed to the format of the public service announcement, including not being named in it. Herbert has since told a television station that he did not accept the announcement as “public,” because he’d left the school—even though the school’s website and the video are as publicly accessible as the YouTube accounts Herbert says the video should have been uploaded to. Herbert told the station he may yet sue the district.
Gavin conceded that it took a long time for the video to appear at the school’s website. The district also has yet to rewrite its anti-bullying policy in accordance with the settlement. That isn’t likely to happen until May, Gavin said.
Jacob Oliva’s full statement:
“Hello FPC Bulldogs, this is your principal, Mr. Oliva just reminding you that it is one of FPC’s goals for all of our students, families and faculty to feel respected, valued and appreciated here at FPC’s campus. Together we work hard to maintain our Bulldog expectations of being responsible, being safe, being engaged, and being respectful. If that is not happening and somebody is being targeted or singled out, we really need your help. Please seek out the advice from [an] adult, an administrator, a guidance counselor, teacher, somebody that you feel comfortable with so we can help you maintain your high expectations. It’s important for us to remember that we all come from diverse backgrounds and have different perspectives on life, and together we can learn how to embrace each other and make the world a better place. That is our goal at FPC, I’m very proud of you.”
Floyd Binkley’s full statement:
“Recently in one of my classes, I told a joke which was inappropriate. A complaint was registered and when the administration asked me about the incident I informed them that in fact I made the comment. I realize that as an educator, I am charged with the responsibility of setting an example and tone for how we should respect each other and every individual, no matter their race, sex, color, religion, national origin, age, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, or expression, linguistic preference, political beliefs, sexual orientation, or social and family background. We all need to remember that words can hurt, and need to be mindful of this. I have been reminded of this and want to remind my fellow co-workers and students to lead by example, and speak up when you see someone being bullied. I want to apologize to the student, his family, my co-workers, the school board, the superintendent, and especially to you, my students, for failing to use good judgment when addressing my class and all of the students in attendan[ce].”