A gay high school senior says he was outed by a teacher, then kicked out of the Christian high school he attended in Jupiter, Fla.
Now the family of 18-year-old Jeffrey Woodard has filed a lawsuit against the school in Palm Beach County Circuit Court, claiming the school violated his privacy, disrupted his education, and have not been forthcoming about why it expelled him.
The incident happened on Aug. 15, while Woodard was attending Jupiter Christian School, according to the lawsuit. Woodard said a teacher pulled him out of class and assured him that their discussion would be "mostly confidential " — as long as the teen didn't say anything about bringing a weapon to school or causing anybody harm, statements that the teacher would have to report.
Rumors at School
Woodard says the teacher then asked him if he was gay.
"He said that rumor had it that I was gay and planning to come out in school," Woodard said. "I then admitted to him that I was gay myself, but I did not mention anything about coming out."
The teacher didn't tell him why he asked.
"I trusted that all the things said between us would be kept between me and him," Woodard said.
But he believes the teacher told supervisors, because the next thing Woodard knew, the dean of students called his mother and said that she needed to meet with school officials to discuss her son's sexual orientation.
Carol Gload had known already that her son was gay, but she was appalled that it had become the subject of a conversation with his teacher.
"I was shocked that this conversation was held without a parent present with him and I was shocked that they would have this conversation with him in the first place," she said.
School Says It Didn’t ‘Out’ Teen
The school declined to speak to Good Morning America because of student confidentiality issues. However, the school disputes Woodard's version of events on its Web site.
"Jupiter Christian School officials did not 'out' Mr. Woodard nor did we violate any request for confidentiality. Any allegation to the contrary is simply false," the statement says. "School officials exercised great care and went to extraordinary lengths to work with Mrs. Gload and Jeff on a variety of issues. When given the opportunity, Mrs. Gload declined to follow the published policies of the school, including appeal procedures that relate to any expulsion decision. Instead, they filed an emotionally charged lawsuit and sought press coverage of their complaints."
The Web site also includes a letter from school President Rich Grimm to parents and school supporters, disputing the suit's allegations.
"Please know that we dispute many of the 'facts' in the claim, as some of this information contradicts our records and timeline. We have faith that the ministry of Jupiter Christian School will be exonerated. Thank you for your prayers and support," the letter says.
Asked to Overcome Sexual Orientation?
Gload says that when she sat down with Grimm and the dean of students, she said she was told the school had learned Woodard was gay, and that she had a couple of choices.
"They gave us the options of working with the school to help Jeffrey with his problem or we could voluntarily withdraw him or they would expel him," Gload said.
Gload and her husband support Woodard, and do not believe that "one can overcome their sexual orientation," she said. The family asked for a letter stating the reasons for Woodard's expulsion, but the letter they received contained no answers.
This letter serves as notice to you that your son is expelled from the school effective immediately," the letter said. "Please know we will be praying for you and your family during this time of transition."
The school declined to give her a letter detailing which school policy her son had broken. Nothing in the school manual indicates that gay people can't attend.
No State Law Against Gay Discrimination
There is no law in the state of Florida that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, said Trent Steele, the family's attorney. However, under school policy, a student must be given a reason for an expulsion.
"It's clear that any student expelled must be provided with a letter in writing stating the exact reasons for the expulsion," Steele said. "That wasn't done here."
The lawsuit is not aimed at changing any laws, but it is aimed at removing the blemish of expulsion from Woodard's record, Steele said. According to the school handbook, a student may only be expelled for bringing a weapon to school, committing a felony, or assaulting a teacher or another student.
"There's no provision for expelling someone for an unacceptable moral lifestyle, which is what they appear to have done here," Steele said.
Woodard is now attending a public high school.