Citing parents’ rights, man sues Palm Beach County schools over LGBTQ flags in classroom
Palm Beach Post | Katherine Kokal | October 25, 2022
The parent of a seventh-grade student has sued the Palm Beach County School Board, demanding two LGBTQ+ pride flags be removed from his son’s classroom and claiming the teacher was “proselytizing” to computer science students about homosexuality.
Frank Deliu, a Wellington resident who was once suspended from practicing law for 15 months in New Zealand, said in the suit filed last week that he was forced to ask for his son to be removed from the class. His family is Orthodox Christian, and they believe homosexuality is a sin, he said.
Deliu called the pride flags “offensive” and said they amounted to “brainwashing” of his son. He accused the Wellington middle school teacher of “proselytizing” to students about “homosexual lifestyles” but gave no specific examples.
Some in Palm Beach County’s legal community think the suit represents the start of a new wave of parents emboldened by recent parental rights laws to seek damages and injunctions against school districts in the courtroom.
“There has always been tension between parents and teachers, but we will see more and more lawsuits pitting parents against teachers for the simple reason that we are becoming an evermore fractured country,” said Bob Jarvis, a law professor at Nova Southeastern. “People are much more willing to sue and much less willing to listen.”
Deliu said in an interview last week that the LGBTQ+ symbols are not the main point of his lawsuit.
“The core issue that I have a problem with is the state indoctrinating my child,” he said. “The religion is the spark, but the powder keg is the politics of it.”
Deliu, who represents himself in the suit, does not cite the newly implemented Parental Rights in Education law, which restricts classroom discussion on gender identity and sexual orientation. Critics call it the “Don’t Say Gay” law.
Instead, he based his suit on the 2021 Parental Bill of Rights law. He said his right as a parent to “direct the upbringing and the moral or religious training” of his son has been denied by the district.
Those rights are codified by that law, which legislators later built on to develop the 2022 Parental Rights in Education law.
Jarvis said this is the first lawsuit he’s aware of that cites Florida’s parental rights laws.
“This could well be the first lawsuit. It certainly won’t be the last,” Jarvis said.
The school district declined to comment on the suit or Deliu’s allegations because of the pending litigation.
What happened in middle school computer class with LGBTQ+ flags?
Deliu’s suit states that his son attended private schools in New Zealand and Romania before moving to Florida in 2020 and being homeschooled.
Deliu added that his son started sixth grade at the middle school in the 2021-22 school year and was a successful student.
This year in seventh grade, he enrolled in a computer science class. On Sept. 16, he told his father that his teacher had hung two “rainbow” LGBTQ+ pride flags on the wall in the classroom.
He also said the teacher used a search engine to “find websites about homosexual lifestyles” and that the teacher “proselytized to the students in class.” Deliu said in an interview that he believes the teacher searched a term such as “gay pride” in response to a student asking a question about the flag. He did not give any examples of what the teacher might have said.
After his son spoke to him, Deliu immediately complained to the school’s principal.
The following week, the suit says, the principal told Deliu she had “dismissed” his complaint. Deliu asked that his son be removed from the computer class, and the school assigned him to an elective art class.
On Sept. 26, Instructional Superintendent Karen Whetsell told Deliu that his complaint was referred to the district’s office of professional standards, which would conduct an investigation, the suit says. Deliu says no one has returned his communications about an investigation.
His son has missed five weeks of the computer science class.
Deliu says his son’s education is being damaged and that his own rights as a parent are being denied by the district by allowing the flags to remain on display.
Deliu did not cite the most recent Parental Rights in Education law, which took effect July 1, because he said he felt it created a “gray area” by not restrictingdiscussions of sexuality and gender identity in the classroom beyond third grade.The law goes on to prohibit discussions that are not “age-appropriate” for later grades but does not define that term.
The law’s vagueness has also come under fire in two federal court challenges by pro-LGBTQ+ rights groups. A judge rejected one of those cases this month, although he said the plaintiffs, Equality Florida and Family Equality, can file a revised complaint.
In his suit, Deliu also alleged the school violated his freedom of religion and due process rights as well as his right to privacy.
Jarvis, who isn’t involved in the suit, criticized Deliu’s contention that the school is hindering his religious freedoms.
“This claim does not work because his right to practice (religion) is not being impinged upon,” he said. “There is nothing about having a gay pride flag up in a classroom that prevents him from going to his church, following his church’s teachings.”
Deliu asked the court to demand the school board investigate his claims, require the teacher to remove the flags, declare that the flags and the teacher’s “decision to discuss gay pride and homosexuality with students was illegal,” stop the school board from displaying gay pride messages in the future and force the teacher and principal to issue a public apology.
He named the school district, the middle school and the principal and teacher as defendants.
What do local and state laws say about flying flags in classrooms?
Classrooms and teachers in Florida are governed by compounding sets of state and local laws as well as school district policy and union rules, but none explicitly prohibit LGBTQ+ pride flags.
The school district repeatedly revised its LGBTQ+ Critical Support Guide this summer as the Parental Rights in Education law went into effect. While the guide encourages teachers to display safe space stickers and wear pins that express their support for inclusion, it does not give any guidance on flags.
The school district does not have any other policy that specifically deals with classroom flags. Foreign language classrooms around the district display flags of other countries, and teachers also fly the colors of their favorite sports teams.
The annual collective bargaining agreement with the Classroom Teachers Association, the union that represents Palm Beach County teachers, also does not specify rules on classroom flags or decorations.
Florida law requires all public school campuses fly the U.S. and Florida flags outside. The statute also requires a U.S. flag in every classroom but does not address any other types of classroom flags.
Although there are no explicit rules about flags in classrooms, West Palm Beach education attorney Shahar Pasch said the judge in Deliu’s case could help define some of the broadest parts of the parental rights-related laws.
“Because it’s so new, there’s nothing to tell us what ‘instruction’ is, but I don’t think merely having the flag is instruction,” she said of the section in the parental rights in education bill that prohibits instruction on sexuality and gender identity that is not age- appropriate.
Pasch said she doesn’t see Deliu’s case against the district going very far, but she thinks it will have a “chilling effect” on teachers and school districts.
“Someone in Tallahassee could say ‘he brought a lawsuit using the tools we gave him over a flag we don’t like, so we’re going to get rid of the flag,'” she said.
Pasch added that districts could use the fear of suits like Deliu’s to permit only U.S. and Florida flags to be flown in classrooms, prohibit any type of LGBTQ+-supportive signage or only allow classrooms to be decorated within a narrow set of standards.
Man who filed suit formerly suspended from practicing law in New Zealand
Although Deliu worked as an attorney abroad, he said he is not licensed to practice law in Florida or elsewhere in the United States.
He said in an interview that he passed the Florida Bar exam in 2021 and is applying for admission.
In New Zealand, he was fined $250,000 and suspended from practicing for 15 months in 2017 after the New Zealand Lawyers and Conveyancers Disciplinary Tribunal determined he made “baseless” claims that one judge was racist and that another was corrupt.
The Palm Beach County suit says Deliu was born in Romania and given refugee status by the U.S. in 1980 after he escaped the Communist Ceausescu regime.
Deliu and his family lived in Romania and New Zealand before they moved to the United States in 2020 due to COVID-19 lockdowns, mask requirements and lockdowns that he said breached the family’s human rights.
When he filed his civil suit, Deliu was grantedcivil indigent status, which allows him relief from paying the suit filing fees ($395 for a civil case).
In his application, Deliu reported an annual income of $0 for himself and $2,931 for his wife.Citing-Parents_deliu-civil-indigent-application