A teacher at Deerfield Beach High School in Florida is fighting the Broward school district over its handling of an accusation that she possibly contributed to a young girl's homosexuality. Juliet Hibbs, a straight woman currently on medical leave, was investigated last year for misconduct after the girl's parents made those allegations to the school's principal. However, the district cleared her and no action was taken.
"I was shocked by the charges" and the principal's decision to have the district pursue the matter, said Hibbs, 47, who is now filing a case with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against the school system.
According to the district's investigative report, the incident began last year while the student was in Hibbs' class. She was suddenly barraged with incendiary messages from her stepdad on her Twitter feed after he discovered the girl's orientation.
"As each message came, she got smaller … I watched her get destroyed," Hibbs said, who reported the incident as child abuse and cyberbullying.
The girl, 18 at the time, never returned home.
The parents told investigators they were upset that Hibbs had not told them about their daughter's orientation. They accused her of possibly contributing to their daughter being gay and believed Hibbs had told the girl to not come home.
But in the district report, the daughter said an abuse counsellor told her she didn't have to go home because she was of age. Of Hibbs, she said the allegations were far-fetched since a straight woman couldn't make someone become a lesbian.
Hibbs said the complaint should have been handled by the school and she believes the district investigation was an attempt to bully her for being too outspoken on other school issues.
"My career has been ruined. Before Deerfield, I had an impeccable record," said Hibbs, an educator for 10 years. She said she now has several medical problems from the stress of the situation that will likely prevent her from teaching.
Hibbs has filed charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against the district, the principal and the assistant principal at Deerfield Beach High.
Advocates for the gay and lesbian community called the charges absurd.
"A teacher doesn't determine the sexual orientation of a student," said Dr. Katharine Campbell, director of clinical services at SunServe in Broward County, which works with gay youth. She said teachers are there to help students find out who they are and helping them shouldn't bring repercussions.