Fort Worth Independent School District Board of Trustees member Dr. Carlos Vasquez (top right) told Dallas Voice in a phone call this afternoon that he’s been told by administrators that an investigation into allegations against Western Hills High School teacher Kristopher Franks should be completed by today or Thursday.
Franks is the WHHS teacher who wrote a notice of infraction against freshman student Dakota Ary (bottom right) and sent Ary to the principal’s office after Ary said during Franks’ German I class that he, Ary, is a Christian and believes homosexuality is wrong. The vice principal then suspended Ary. However, the current investigation doesn’t involve the incident with Ary.
Steven Poole, deputy executive director for the United Educators Association of Texas, a teachers union, confirmed Tuesday that other, unrelated allegations had been made against Franks, and that Franks had been placed on paid administrative leave for the duration of the investigation. Vasquez said today that any time allegations are made against a teacher, those allegations have to be investigated, and it is routine for the teacher in question to be placed on paid administrative leave.
Franks has declined to speak to the media on the advice of his union representative. Poole said because the investigation is ongoing, he’s not at liberty to discuss the details of the allegations made against Franks or comment further on the case.
However, Ary and his mother, with the help of Liberty Counsel attorney Matt Krause, went immediately to the press, telling their side of the story in several TV interviews and saying Franks and the school had violated the student’s right to freedom of speech. The case quickly became a rallying point for the religious right.
With Krause representing them, Ary and his mother protested the suspension, and school administrators later reversed their decision.
Ary said in media interviews that he made the comment quietly to a classmate sitting next to him in response to a discussion going on in the class at the time. But Franks told friends shortly after the incident that there was no discussion involving homosexuality at the time, and that Ary made the comment loudly while looking directly at Franks. Franks also told friends that the comment was only the latest in an ongoing series of incidents in which Ary and a group of three of his friends have made anti-gay comments to and about him.
Franks told friends that the harassment by Ary and his friends began several weeks ago after Franks, who also teaches sociology, posted on the “World Wall” in his classroom a photo, taken from the German news magazine Stern, of two men kissing. The photo was ripped off the wall and torn in two at some point during Ary’s class, and Franks told friends he believes that Ary or one of his friends tore up the photo. During a later sociology class students upset that the photo had been torn up replaced it with a hand-drawn picture, and another student then covered that picture with a page bearing a hand-written biblical scripture from Leviticus calling sex between two men an abomination.
Franks told friends that since that incident, Ary and his friends had continued to making derogatory and harassing comments.
Franks’ friends also said that the teacher, a Fulbright scholar, has been the target of anti-gay harassment for at least the last two years, including having hateful messages left in his classroom and, in one case, having his car vandalized.
FWISD teacher Martin Vann, spokesman for the group LGBTQ S.A.V.E.S. that was formed about a year ago to help protect students and teachers in the district from anti-gay discrimination and bullying, said that Franks told his version of the incident last week, before the current investigation was launched and Franks was required to sign a statement saying he would not discuss the incident with other teachers, administrators, parents or students. Vann said Franks denied getting angry and yelling at Ary, as Ary had said, and reiterated that Ary’s comments were not pertinent to any discussion in the class at the time.
Vann said Franks told him that another student had asked him what the German word for “Christian” was, and how, if he moved to Germany, he could find an English translation of the Bible. That’s when, Franks told Vann, Ary looked directly at him and said loudly that as a Christian, he believes homosexuality is wrong. It was not, Franks told Vann, a simple statement of belief or opinion but rather an intentional effort to insult and harass the teacher that Ary perceived to be gay.
Other friends who had talked with Franks after the incident asked not to be identified because they are also FWISD employees, although at different schools, and fear that district officials will retaliate against them for speaking to the press. One man who also teachers at Western Hills declined to comment at all because, he said, school officials had told teachers there that if they spoke to the media about the incident, they would be fired.
Vasquez said today he had spoken to interim FWISD Superintendent Walter Dansby about those threats, and that Dansby had assured him no teacher would be fired for speaking to the press. “If someone was told that, it shouldn’t have happened,” Vasquez said.
Such threats of retaliation are a particularly sore spot for the school district, which has been shaken in recent months by allegations of ongoing harassment and bullying of some teachers and students by other teachers and administrators, with the targeted teachers saying that not only were their complaints ignored by supervisors and administrators, but that the harassment intensified after they complained.
You can read Betty Brink’s article about the harassment scandal here in the Fort Worth Weekly.