Fullerton Union High School Assistant Principal Joe Abell publicly apologized Wednesday to a male student he removed from the stage during the school’s Mr. Fullerton competition for saying he hoped gay marriage would be legal in California by the time he’s ready to wed.
A statement from George J. Giokaris, superintendent of the Fullerton Union High School District, stated that “the District has concluded that [removing the student from the competition] was not handled appropriately by the Assistant Principal.”
The district said “the student’s statement made during the Mr. Fullerton contest at Fullerton Union High School (FUHS) on April 3, 2012, regarding the student’s future plans and hopes did not violate any school rules.”
Heather Sutherland, the parent of another student, was in the audience during the Tuesday night competition. She said the male student was asked as part of the contest what he hoped to be doing in 10 years.
She said he initially made a lighthearted comment about being a highly successful entertainer but then turned serious.
According to a letter circulated Wednesday by other students to support the teen who was removed from the competition, “he replied by saying he hopes to find the love of his life, and to be able to marry him, and that he hopes gay marriage will be legal.”
While the student was giving his answer, “assistant principal Joe Abell came on stage in front of the hundreds of people in attendance and interrupted [the student’s] speech and disqualified him from the competition,” the support letter stated.
According the the district’s statement, “an Assistant Principal removed a male student from the stage during the Mr. Fullerton competition for making what the Assistant Principal believed to be a statement that was off script and not pre-approved.”
Sutherland said the audience seemed supportive of the gay student’s hopes.
The student was identified by NBC as Kearian Giertz.
By Wednesday morning, a group of Fullerton Union High School students had organized a protest that included circulating letters of support for the student and asking others to send “respectful” comments to Abell, asking him to publicly apologize.
At 10:25 a.m., according to the district’s statement, Abell “made a public apology over the schools’ public address system” to “all FUHS students and staff members.”
The district statement did not name either the assistant principal or the student.
“The District believes that the matter should have been handled privately with the student by the Assistant Principal,” read the statement. It didn’t specify what the assistant principal should or should not have said in private.
“Prior to making the public apology, the Assistant Principal personally spoke with the student who was removed from the competition,” the district statement reads. “The Assistant Principal asked the student if the public apology would in any way make the situation worse for the student or embarrass the student. The student told the Assistant Superintendent that it was OK to make the public apology.”
The district’s statement stated the public apology had “two components”:
• A personal apology, which named the student, for any embarrassment the Assistant Principal’s actions may have caused the student.
• An apology to all students and staff members for the way the situation was handled. The Assistant Principal acknowledged that he did not handle the situation appropriately.
The superintendent’s statement stated that no information will be released about how or whether the district deals with Abell because it “is a confidential personnel matter.”
The student protest organizers also are asking for “a direct change to the rules stated in the student handbook so that it directly includes rules against bullying based on sexual orientation, perceived sexual orientation, and gender identity. We know that with the support of our fellow students, we can bring justice to this situation, and make a better future for those on campus.”
— TRACY WOOD
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