Broward County

School district investigates incident with girls holding hands

The Broward County School District plans to investigate an incident earlier this month in which a high school principal reportedly threatened a lesbian couple with suspension for holding hands on campus and then outed one of the girls to her parents.

The girl hadn't told her parents that she was gay.

Superintendent Jim Notter said Tuesday that his staff was looking into the incident at Blanche Ely High School in Pompano Beach. He said district staff don't have the full story yet and he didn't want to act on "hearsay."

The school's principal, Karlton Johnson, wasn't taking calls Wednesday, his secretary said.

The incident, which was reported in the media this week, sparked outrage at Tuesday's school board meeting.

Michael Emanuel Rajner, who sits on the district's diversity committee, told board members he found the principal's actions "reprehensible" and "horrendous." He said gay, lesbian and transgender students are at a greater risk of being bullied and committing suicide.

Students should never be outed as gay, he said.

"It's inexcusable," he said.

Jeanne Jusevic, chairwoman of Broward's District Advisory Council, became teary when telling board members that the district needed to start "exercising a bit of common sense" in its policies.

She said there are many reasons for teenagers — gay or straight — to hug, touch or hold hands.

She said every school should have a gay-straight alliance club on campus.

Notter said it's up to each school to determine how it wants to handle public displays of affection between students. But the school board voted unanimously in March to add gender identity and gender expression to its non-discrimination policy, along with age, race and religion.

"We led the state of Florida in an anti-bullying policy, so clearly it's an important issue for us," he said.