Group says FW teacher was harassed by student he punished for saying homosexuality is wrong

Posted on 26 Sep 2011 at 12:54pm

We’re working on a more in-depth story for this Friday’s print edition about the case of a Fort Worth school district teacher who’s accused of suspending a student for saying that homosexuality is wrong. But for now, we thought we’d go ahead and share the below info from Marvin Vann, a member of the group LGBTQ S.A.V.E.S., formed about a year ago to protect LGBT students and teachers in Tarrant County from anti-gay harassment.

Vann is calling on members of the LGBT community to speak out in support of the teacher in this case, whom he identifies as Kristopher Franks. Contact info for Fort Worth ISD administrators is at the end of Vann’s post:

I would like to take a moment to fill you all in on an instance of injustice playing itself out right now in the Fort Worth ISD, part of a larger attempt to get the district to back away from its newly adopted policies prohibiting ISD employees and students from harassing others at school on the basis of their perceived or actual sexual orientation or gender identity. I do so in the hopes that you might add your voice to those of Fairness Fort Worth, City Councilman Joel Burns, and others, in demanding that our public school system live up to those policies.

Kristopher Franks, a German teacher with a long and distinguished service record at Western Hills High School, is currently being investigated by FWISD administrators, swayed by a right-wing attempt to rouse public opinion against him for having the temerity to write a disciplinary referral against Dakota Ary, a student whom Franks reports publicly harassed him in class on the basis of the student’s perception that Mr. Franks is gay. This is being depicted in numerous news reports as an effort to suppress the student’s First Amendment right to free speech. As Franks and the district cannot speak to media while the incident is being investigated by the district, only the student and his Liberty Institute lawyer’s version of the incident is being reported in the media.

The gist of these reports is that Ary, during a discussion about religion and homosexuality in his first-year German class, expressed the opinion that “I am a Christian, and I believe that homosexuality is wrong,” and was subsequently sent out of class with a disciplinary referral by his teacher, Mr. Franks, and then given a three-day suspension from an assistant principal.

I and other members of LGBTQ S.A.V.E.S., a group formed a year ago in response to local and national incidents of school-based, anti-LGBTQ incidents of harassment, became aware of this incident last week, shortly after the first, distorted media reports came out. Concerned that only one side of the incident was being reported, we met Friday night with Mr. Franks. His account contradicts Ary and his lawyer’s version of events, and has been substantiated by several of the other students in class at the time. We found Mr. Franks’ explanation entirely credible.

He reports (and has reported to his school) repeated acts of anti-gay harassment by several students that occurred this and last year, including by a group of four specific boys in this class, of whom Ary is one. Among other incidents, Mr. Franks maintains a “word wall” for his German IV class on which he posts articles and images from several journals, including the German magazine, Stern. One of these articles concerned gay rights in Germany, and included a photo of two men kissing. The group of four boys concerned was sitting near this image immediately before Mr. Franks found it had been ripped from the wall. The student and his lawyer are now asserting that including this photo among the others constituted his teacher’s “imposing acceptance of homosexuality” in his classroom. These students subsequently took every opportunity to denounce homosexuality in class, frequently without context; that is, with the topic having otherwise been broached.

On the particular day in which this incident occurred, Mr. Franks was opening class when the topic of Christianity in Germany was broached by one student, who asked what churches were there, another whether they read the Bible in English, etc. Franks asserts that the topic of homosexuality was not broached in any way, and that Ary‘s assertions to the contrary are entirely false. At this point, Ary declared, with a class audience, “Gays can’t be Christians; homosexuality is wrong,” looking directly at Mr. Franks. Franks says he understands and affirms students’ right to free speech, and that he is perfectly prepared to lead a respectful discussion on topics such as gay rights that allows for the assertion of opinions with which he disagrees. He has led such discussion in the past in his sociology classes. But in this case, hr feels the context makes it clear that this remark was made ad hominem, aimed specifically at him to devalue him and any information he might share on the topic of religion, on the basis of his perceived sexual orientation.

The Liberty Institute, which has provided the lawyer to represent Ary, depicts itself as concerned with protecting “faith-based speech,” and has a record of fighting against the extension of anti-harassment policies to protect LGBT people. It is associated with a number of other, politically active, conservative evangelical institutions. So far, the lawyer’s efforts to whip up public sentiment against Mr. Franks have been very successful: The story has been broadcast nationally by a number of right-wing websites. Franks has received numerous insulting and threatening phone calls and emails, and after public outcry generated by these media reports, these suspensions were nullified, and the district has called Mr. Franks in to be interrogated Monday (26 Sept.) by the Office of Professional Standards, the office responsible for investigation ethical violations, though without as yet bringing any specific allegations against him.

As you might guess, the Liberty Institute tends to be very strategic in its selection of cases on which to to deploy its resources. It is likely no coincidence that it chose to represent the student only a few months after the FWISD adopted policies against anti-gay harassment.

It would be very helpful, and a grace rendered to the threatened teacher, Mr. Franks, if you and other community members would write letters and/or email messages to the school board members, assistant superintendent, and Western Hills High School principal, calling on them to give a respectful, caring, and full hearing to Mr. Franks’ side of the story. Time is of the essence: He is being interrogated by an external investigations group today, though no specific allegations have yet been made against him by the ISD. I will post their names, phone numbers and email addresses below. Please keep all messages respectful and restrained, calling simply for a fair, respectful and caring hearing of Mr. Franks’ side of the story, unswayed by the public outcry generated by the slanted media coverage. Do not go into the speculations or reports of his side of the case; that is for him to present.

Walter Dansby
Interim Superintendent
Fort Worth ISD
Email: walter.dansby@fwisd.org
Phone: 817.871.2000

James Wellman
Principal
Western Hills High School
Fort Worth ISD
Email: james.wellman@fwisd.org
Phone: 817.815.6000

Ray Dickerson
President
Board of Education
Fort Worth ISD
Email: ray.Dickerson@fwisd.org

Carlos Vasquez
Board Member, District 1
Board of Education
Fort Worth ISD
Email: carlos.vasquez@fwisd.org

Norman Robbins
Board Member, District 7
Board of Education
Fort Worth ISD
Email: norman.robbins@fwisd.org

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