Fla. School Won’t Expel Student for Protecting Gay Classmate

by Jason St. Amand
National News Editor
Friday Feb 14, 2014

Officials from a Florida high school decided Monday not to expel a student who was suspended for protecting a gay student from a bully, Fort Myer's NBC affiliate WBBH reports.

Mark Betterson, a senior at East Lee County High School, was suspended earlier this month for 10 days after getting in the middle of a fight in order to protect a bullied openly gay student. Betterson said he needed to do something when James Griffin, 18, allegedly attacked and used anti-gay slurs against Jonathan Colon.

"If I didn't jump into it, it would have got serious," Betterson said. "It would have been worse than what he got." He added: "Jonathan was just going to stand there and get beat up ... if I didn't jump into it."

Police arrested Griffin after watching security camera footage of the attack. He faces battery charges. Meanwhile, Betterson was suspended for nearly two weeks.

Betterson met with school officials on Monday, however, to talk about his punishment. He was able to return to school Tuesday and avoid expulsion.

"Bullying isn’t called for, and everyone should be respected for what they want to be and what they want to do," Betterson told WBBH.

He also said he would defend Colon again.

"After he kept getting hit he wasn’t doing anything back to them. They just kept hitting him," Betterson said.

According to the authorities, Griffin hit Colon in the face and the back of the head.

"I think it’s a good punishment as substitution for expulsion, but he shouldn’t even have been considered for expulsion for what he did," said sophomore Cody Lesie.

Fellow student, sophomore Kyle Piogrim, echoed similar statements.

"I think it’s horrible because he got suspended for doing something right," he said.


  • GAG'EM, 2014-02-17 23:53:32

    Florida: Where white men who kill black children go free; and black teens who defend their classmates from assault are suspended from school. Someone tell me that’s not a fucked-up state.

  • GAG'EM, 2014-02-17 23:59:55

    Call East Lee County H.S. and tell them to lift Mark Betterson’s suspension and give him an award for defending his classmate against bullying. (239)369-2932.

  • , 2014-09-17 02:41:58

    You know, the media has a really biased way of reporting things. There’s so much more truth to this. I’m not even sure where to start. First of all I’m not a victim because the assault was provoked; Does that make him hitting me any less wrong? No, but it does shed light on this story. He did bully me (homophobic slurs), and I did a little dance, flicked him off, and sat down. He threw bread at me, I threw it in the air (not at him), but still, my actions were a catalyst for his violence. He punched me in the face and Mark, who does actually know me because we were both in band, got into a fight with him. Reviewing the surveillance footage from the security cameras in the cafeteria, it’s evident that as Mark approached him, James was backing off. Mark could have stopped at that point and it would have been a wrap. But he didn’t and they fought. My ego was shot and I wrote some articles and sent them to local newspapers (who love to denounce the reputation of East). I emphasized Mark defending me and made him out to be a martyr by leaving out the fact that we were already friends and contrasting his football player status with my flamboyant nature. (Anything with Gay in it is a attention grabbing headline) In truth I hated James after that, and I wanted people to hate him to. That makes me just as much of a bully. The only difference between the two of us is that where he hurt me physically I attacked him socially and psychologically. I’m just as disgusting as he is. Mark is the least guilty person of the three of us. His intentions were just and admirable but his logic was flawed; he did the right thing by stopping it, but he did the wrong thing by fighting him after it was already finished. I did the wrong thing by indirectly starting the conflict, and James did the wrong thing by hitting me. We were all wrong. I didn’t, and couldn’t press charges against him because it was evident that by flicking him off, I was inadvertently asking for it. Mark and I are friends and he would probably be judging me right now for revisiting something that happened so long ago. In my blind emotion I knew only two things; 1, that I had to destroy James in any way that I could, and 2, that I had to do something about Mark being suspended and possibly sent to ALC. I wrote an article titled "Protest at ELCHS" and in it I used every bit of my journalistic ability to make it enticing for the local news media. (Although it was littered with grammatical errors that I didn’t notice until after I sent it). I rallied my peers on FB and then we had a sit down in the cafeteria after breakfast. There were times that the crowd of students began to erupt in full out rebelliousness; the spirit of a protest does that to people, and I, advised by the resource officer, calmed them down and reminded them that this was a silent protest. The principal, who is remarkably adapt at damage control, thanked us for our solidarity, explained to us that we gave him less than a day to react to this and ensured us that he is a very fair and understanding person. He asked us to go back to class and the room was thick with anticipation of what I would do next. We wanted to make a statement and show our conviction and that’s exactly what we did. There wasn’t anything more that I could ask for so I packed my things and left; everyone else did the same. Mark was back the next day. I began to realize that I had unleashed a nasty can of worms; the schools public image just took a huge blow because of me. I was tired but I tried my best to limit the negative perception of my school. I wrote a second article highlighting me being protected as opposed to me being attacked, the intolerance of bullying at ELCHS, our cultural diversity and why the students are unified and understanding of one another; using Mark as an example. I also included how understanding and effective the principal was. I did interviews with the press, who not too surprisingly weren’t interested with any of the good things I had to say about my school. Instead they picked apart my words and rearranged them to fuel the negative image that I was fighting against. No one cared about my second article. It was never mentioned or speculated. I felt ashamed, and disgusted with myself. For years I was the biggest advocate of East, and my Senior year legacy, only made the reputation worse. The student population was positively affected though; all of the things in my second article were true. We were more unified than ever and bullying really was at an all time low; peace and understanding was spreading like a virus. It’s ironic how the first article, which was an extremely skewered perception of the truth was believed more by the average person than the second article, which was way more truthful... but that just goes to show that the people who sit there and watch the news all day will believe anything those reporters say and they won’t bother to do their own research; because if you had, you would have found my articles on Facebook. I kept reading in the comments peoples concern with administration not breaking up the fight. I got punched in the face in less than 5 seconds; how much time does that give anyone to react? Mark was sitting right in front of me. The admins and resource officer did pull the two of them apart. There were a thousand and three ways I could have avoided getting punched in the face. I chose to be prideful and I chose to be a bully. Mark had the option to not fight James (because James had stopped after Mark jumped in front of me and Mark initiated the fight with James). He chose to. We all made our choices that day and we all suffered the consequences. The rest was just manipulation and politics. Nothing I did was admirable or justifiable. I forgave myself eventually. I’m not sure where I stand on the zero tolerance policy. In truth we should have all been suspended.

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