Luke Herbert and the Dark Side of
America’s Fastest Growing City
April 8, 2011
As a high school student in the late ’70s, I was struck by two legends of pop culture that remain very relevant today in this era of “them politics.” The first was an animated short film based on Maurice Ogden’s poem “The Hangman” (that was shown in schools nationwide) which demonstrated the danger of remaining silent in the face of bigotry against others since we could be on the next list of disfavored “thems.” This always resonated with me having been raised hearing how my grandparents faced “Irish Need Not Apply” signs and now seeing the Republican Party trying to base its electoral future as protectors of the nation against a host of “thems.”
The second was the story of Kitty Genovese whose neighbors did nothing as they watched or heard her being raped and stabbed to death outside her Queens apartment. While World War II had shown us all what can happen when good people remain silent, that was on the other side of the Atlantic. Kitty Genovese’s violent death punctured our belief that we were somehow different.
Imagine a modern day Kitty Genovese abandoned and laying helpless while being brutalized at a high school indifferent to her plight. Imagine again the fearsome shadow of Maurice Ogden’s “The Hangman” cast, not on a town square, but across a classroom by its teacher. Even worse, imagine it happening in America’s fastest growing city. Welcome to Flagler Palm Coast High School (FPCHS) in Palm Coast, Florida — a mere 27 miles from Daytona Speedway.
Author Scott Rose has been trying to call nationwide attention to the case of Luke Herbert, a gay teenager who attended FPCHS where during the fall he was bullied, received death threats, was knocked unconscious by a classmate and openly ridiculed by his teacher.
What did the school do about it? According to the ACLU, which negotiated a settlement with the school on behalf of Herbert, school officials conceded that that the matter was not handled as swiftly as it should have been and several missteps had occurred.” Even worse, according to Herbert, after he was knocked unconscious, the school placed his attacker back in his science class after a short suspension despite assuring Herbert and his mother it would not do so. It also took no action against the teacher who ridiculed Herbert in front of the class (whose wife is secretary to Janet Valentine, Flagler County’s School Superintendent) other than demand an apology be made.
This indifference is shocking given that, left unchecked, such bullying can be fatal; as was the case in Oxnard, California in 2008, where the bullying of a gay student culminated with a classmate fatally shooting him at school.
FPCHS, however, appears to be in the dark ages as the administrator of what appeared to be its Facebook page blamed Herbert for “setting himself up” by not dressing “normal,” apparently ignorant of the fact that the same argument was once used against rape victims for wearing anything that showed skin. The site, however, has since been taken down and the school denies having anything to do with the page.
In addition, last year FPCHS gained national attention when the school principal (backed by Superintendent Valentine) attempted to cancel FPCHS’ production of To Kill a Mockingbird as “too controversial.” This came nearly fifty years after the film version won three Academy Awards, including Best Actor for Gregory Peck for displaying the courage and moral fortitude that has made defense lawyer Atticus Finch a national icon (the American Film Institute named Finch the top hero of the first 100 years of American film).
In To Kill a Mockingbird , a jury convicts an innocent Tom Robinson based on race despite an impassioned closing argument by Atticus Finch imploring the all-white jury, “in the name of God, do your duty.” A half-century later, Scott Rose is now asking the same of Flagler County school officials. Meanwhile Luke Herbert, like Tom Robinson, was forced to flee because of being one of “them” and not “us” and now attends a virtual high school.
Confronted with a clear “teachable moment” about tolerance in post-millennial America, Flagler Palm Coast High School taught it students that doing the right thing is for sissies. What appears to matter more to Flagler County educators is that you are one of “us” and not one of “them.”