A 16-year-old male Broadmoor High student was cornered by a bus driver who told him that homosexuality is a sin and that he was going to hell unless he repented his “sinful ways,” the ACLU said Tuesday while calling on the East Baton Rouge Parish school system to take further action.
In an open letter , the American Civil Liberties Union’s Louisiana Executive Director Marjorie Esman said the bus driver violated the First Amendment when she tried to proselytize and harass the teenage boy, who is identified only as “John Doe.”
Esman addressed the letter to Superintendent Bernard Taylor as well as to Broadmoor High Principal Shalonda Simoneaux and Transportation Director Gary Reese.
The boy and his sister, who is identified as “Jane Doe,” told their mother about the incident, which occurred Oct. 10, and the mother complained to multiple people in the school system, Esman said.
Keith Bromery, spokesman for the school system, said the school district was able to broadly confirm the family’s account of what happened and views it as an “isolated incident” that has been adequately addressed.
“The driver in question apologized for the incident and promised that it would not happen again,” Bromery said.
Esman, however, maintains that the brother and sister have reason to fear more harassment if nothing more is done.
“The school bus driver continues to drive the bus that both John and Jane Doe must use to attend school every day, subjecting them to the prospect of future harassment,” Esman said.
The driver, who was not identified in the letter, was warned not to talk students about religion or sexuality again, but otherwise was not disciplined, Esman said.
“The kids need to know that if they go onto that bus again, this won’t happen again,” she said.
Soon after it was reported, the driver’s supervisor in the Transportation Department counseled the driver. The supervisor then placed a memo in the driver’s personnel file that could be used against the driver if the behavior resurfaces, Bromery said.
“There have been no reported recurrences of this type of behavior associated with this driver,” Bromery said, adding the driver has no previous documented disciplinary record.
“The driver has been with the district for several years, but I don’t know how many,” Bromery said.
Esman said Tuesday the letter is based on the family’s account of what happened. She said the organization is keeping the family’s identity private to avoid recriminations for the children.
The ACLU’s first contact with the school system was the letter it sent Tuesday to the school district, Esman said. The organization had not received a response as of Tuesday afternoon.
According to the letter, the incident occurred early in the morning on a Friday as the kids were exiting the bus at Broadmoor High School. The driver asked the 16-year-old boy to stay behind to talk. When the boy told her he didn’t go to church, the driver told him that homosexuality is a sin and he could go to hell as a result.
“The driver told John Doe that he needed to go to church, pray and repent and God would forgive him of his ‘sinful ways,’” Esman wrote. “The driver told John Doe what Bible he should get and that she could give him the name of a church if his mother would bring him.”
The boy’s sister had gotten off the bus, but stood nearby and watched as her brother grew more and more upset, Esman said. She also noted that neither the brother or sister were offered counseling in the wake of the incident.
Bromery said every student who thinks they need counseling can request it and it will be made available, but it was not clear if the teens are aware the service is available to them.
Esman asked the school system to educate all school system staff against religious proselytizing, as well as harassment and discrimination against lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender, or LGBT, students.
Bromery said school system policy restricts employees from speaking to students about their religion or sexual orientation, but he’s not sure if all employees are reminded of this in their training. He said he anticipates that as a result of this incident the Transportation Department will review this policy in future training sessions.
Bruce Parker, executive director of the nonprofit Louisiana Progress, said he’s not surprised to hear that a school employee was involved in this kind of harassment. His organization for years has pushed to change school policies to prevent bullying. Along the way, Parker said, several students and family members reported homophobia in schools involving employees, such as offensive jokes or looking the other way when one student harassed another.
Even so, this incident sticks out to Parker both for its severity and for the school system’s muted response.
“I think it’s particularly troubling that someone who was charged with protecting him from bullying ended up bullying him,” Parker said.