“I have to tell you this is the most racist and homophobic place I’ve ever worked,” declared Scott Melton in April at a faculty meeting in front of dozens of teachers, administrators and the board of trustees of Saint Andrew’s private school in Boca Raton.
One teacher who attended vividly recalled the meeting.
“When Scott stood up his voice was trembling, you could see he was upset,” the teacher said. “He was forceful in saying this school is not welcoming to gay people and people of color and it has to stop.”
The day after the meeting, he complained to the head of his department that certain administrators were attempting to cover up a possible sex abuse scandal, alleging that outside authorities were not being notified, as required by Florida law.
The next day Melton, 52, was put on a paid leave of absence – never to return.
Melton, who is an openly gay, black, Jewish man, doesn’t know if he was pushed out because of his sexuality, or because he was a whistleblower – or a combination of both.
Regardless, he’s devastated and angry.
Melton loved his job as an English, History and German teacher. He loved it so much that when he started 6 years ago he gave up his social life and backed away from his involvement with the gay community in Fort Lauderdale.
“Even being openly out and gay at Saint Andrews was not necessarily a safe thing,” he said.
Even though Saint Andrew’s is a Christian school, they have a non-discrimination clause that covers sexual orientation and gender identity or expression. Additionally, they have a policy protecting whistleblowers.
Melton resigned from his position at the school on June 27, while still on his leave of absence.
“Since being put on administrative leave with pay, I have been contacted only once. Saint Andrew’s School has been negligent and derelict in duty to communicate my status for not only this year but also for the 2016-2017 school year,” his letter of resignation reads. “Therefore, due to the hostile work environment and lack of information I have experienced … I am forced to give my resignation … and seek employment elsewhere.”
Melton filed a lawsuit on Tuesday against the school asking for back pay, lost fringe benefits, compensatory damages and reinstatement. The lawsuit alleges that the school violated state law by retaliating against Melton for being a whistleblower. In an earlier letter to the school from his lawyer he separately alleged discrimination based on his race and sexual orientation.
After this story was originally published online SFGN obtained a copy of an email exchange between the school’s Human Resources department and a lawyer for the school. According to the exchange it appears the school debated whether to fire Melton or send him a letter of reprimand admonishing him for his cover up allegations and for accusing an administrator of being homophobic and racist.
The school’s lawyer gives her thoughts on the school’s chances of winning a lawsuit if they chose to fire Melton.
“This means it is highly unlikely that the school would get summary judgment on a claim that Scott might assert for either discrimination, retaliation, or whistleblower activities. The case would either have to settle or go trial,” the email reads.
Melton contends that instead of making a decision, the school took no action at all, leaving him hanging.
SFGN interviewed five current teachers at the school, all of whom requested anonymity because they feared retaliation from the administration. It also states in the employee handbook that teachers are not allowed to speak to the press.
“If anyone speaks to the press they’ll be immediately fired,” one source said. “No one would dare speak out against the administration – it’s a retaliatory environment without so much as a second thought.”
All five had nothing but glowing things to say about Melton and his teaching. All of them were heartbroken at his treatment and sad that he’s no longer at the school. And all of them want justice.
“Scott did the right thing, and they ruined him for it,” one source said. Another: “Scott got the rawest deal I’ve ever seen anywhere.” And yet another said Melton wasn’t the only one concerned about the sex abuse allegations. “A lot of people were asking about it. But he was targeted. I believe it’s because he’s gay.”
Michael Feehan, an English teacher who retired this year, spoke to SFGN on the record.
“I feel extremely sorry for Scott and do not believe he was treated justly. I respect and admire him. He related very well with students, especially gay students,” he said. “And he was very active in providing safe spaces for LGBT students. He was a colleague whom I was proud of.”
Melton started at Saint Andrew’s in 2010 and for the first four years everything was relatively smooth. But last year an administrator told him in private to tone down the gay content in his classroom. Sources confirmed to SFGN that Melton mentioned those incidents to them around the time they occurred.
In the fall of 2015 he was pulled into a meeting with Sara Rubinstein, Head of the Upper School, where he said she denied that she ever said there was “too much gay content” in his class, but then reprimanded him for showing a video that was pro-gay. Melton also claims she accused him of being anti-Christian.
The content in question was a Betty Bowers video, which apparently caused such a stir that a student complained. Bowers is a character played by Deven Green, a Canadian comedian, performer and musician. She’s known for video comedy parodies, including her performance as the satirical character Mrs. Betty Bowers, "America's Best Christian.”
“The class was controversial,” Melton said of his Theory of Knowledge class. “It was about how do you know what you know. That’s the whole purpose of the class, to question belief structures and faith and knowledge.”
SFGN also interviewed one of Melton’s former students, who requested anonymity out of fear of retaliation.
“His class was amazing. It was my favorite. He always listened. If we had a problem, we could always come to him. We could always trust him,” she said. “For the school to treat him with so much disrespect it’s really frustrating. He was trying to teach us. To challenge us.”
As for the content of the class?
“There were controversial themes but it made you think about both sides, to help you understand,” she said. “At school if we were so sensitive to everything we’d be so sheltered and wouldn’t be prepared for the real world.”
After this story was initially published online another student came forward to tell SFGN his experience in Melton’s class.
“My entire life I was just a homophobic person. I was never informed about it. I was never around gay people. I wanted to avoid it as much as possible whenever the gay subject came up. I was scared I was going to be uncomfortable in his class,” the student recalled.
He credits Melton for his change of heart.
“He helped me break through that phase I guess,” he said. “It really upset me when I read that people said there was too much gay content in his class and that he was teaching too gay. It’s just not true. He was openly gay. He was honest about it. And I respected that a lot. If I ever needed advice I could go to him.”
Out And Proud At St. Andrew’s
“I felt for Scott,” said former teacher Annie Wilkin.
Wilkin, who identifies as a queer woman, only lasted a year at Saint Andrew’s. She left in June.
It was her first time working at a Christian school. SFGN asked if she was being naïve about what she would experience there.
“I don’t think so,” the 29-year-old said. “I got married in the Episcopal Church two months before I arrived. I was so pumped to be there. I went into the year feeling very strongly about being out.”
Wilkin said the Episcopal Church was more welcoming than other Christian denominations so she didn’t think there would be a problem. She started a QSA (queer straight alliance) with a handful of students at the school.
She was impressed the students wanted to call it a QSA instead of a gay straight alliance in order to be more inclusive.
“To be queer on campus, you have to be a certain type queer. You had to do a particular performance. You could be gay, but not that gay,” she explained. “A few of the administrators felt the QSA was a feather in the school’s cap. Having a club is one thing. But doing support consistently throughout the year is another. This is a culture that denies diversity of any kind, so it’s very difficult to address. These kids are so homogenous.”
She explained further that the school really reinforced traditional gender roles so an effeminate gay man would not be as welcome there. And when two of the anonymous sources were asked about “gay content” they thought it was referencing Melton being too flamboyant.
“His expressions, movement of his hands, the way he presented himself. He taught too gay,” one source said. “Here is a guy who is gay, but not involved with any students, blows a whistle on something that shouldn’t be happening. And he’s put on administrative leave.”
Besides the QSA, Wilkin also launched the Positive Space Campaign. That idea, she said, proved to be too radical for the school and it received a chilly reception. Some students complained the project would attempt to shut down their religious beliefs.
The project was started at the University of British Columbia and “aims to foster a welcoming atmosphere and inclusive, respectful dialogue on campus for people of all sexual orientations and gender identities by identifying spaces where sexual and gender diversity is supported and valued.”
“It’s a movement of inclusivity,” Wilkin said. “It’s about creating a space where queer people are welcome.”
Wilkin can’t remember the exact words from one administrator but “the message that I got is that the school would never champion queer rights and never market itself as a school that would support LGBTQ kids.”
Wilkin declined to identify the administrator in question.
She understood the concerns of the students who complained, but also noted that the project would “make it impossible for them to discriminate against gay people. They want to have a worldwide view that excludes gay people. One student [against the project] in particular felt very strongly that it was shutting down the conversation.”
Wilkin said the campaign was really meant to create a safe space for anyone who felt different in some way.
“One of the biggest issues [at the school] was the sort of denial of diversity issues in general,” she noted. For the most part it a feeling that she got on campus. She said it’s hard to articulate.
This isn’t the first time Saint Andrew’s has been accused of being hostile toward a gay teacher either. In 2006 Dominick Giombetti, a newly hired English and drama teacher, resigned after only six weeks when the school learned he would play gay roles in local theaters.
Here’s an exert from the now defunct Independent Gay News:
“During the day he started to hear comments such as ‘faggot’ behind his back. Speaking with The Independent he said that ‘I threw up several times in the bathroom that day.’ He continued teaching until lunchtime. ‘The day was a blur. I felt that I had been hit by a baseball bat.’”
Giombetti told the school he would not give up acting. He claimed he was told "the best case scenario is that the board will let you finish your year and then we'll part ways.”
Instead he decided to resign. The school addressed the controversy with this statement:
"It is important to note that any concern that members of the administration expressed to Dominick had nothing to do with sexual orientation. The concern was the idea of a Middle School drama teacher involving himself in theater productions with adult themes. Saint Andrew's School would have the same concern regardless of the teacher's sexual orientation or membership in any other protected category.”
While Palm Beach County is generally seen as a progressive place in terms of LGBT rights, with more than 90 pro-LGBT laws on the books throughout the county and its municipalities, the same can’t be said for Boca Raton. It was only four years ago when the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council launched the “Boca Bigots Run City Hall” campaign and a city official compared the struggle for LGBT equality to pet lover’s rights.
“What’s to keep other groups from wanting to be protected?” the city official told SFGN at the time. “How about me? I’m a pet lover. I think I should be included in your anti-discrimination law. Someone who has dogs should not be discriminated against either.”