Investigation clears gay Fort Worth teacher

Kristopher Franks set to return to work Friday after 4-day leave stemming from allegations of improper behavior

FWISD School board member Carlos Vasquez

Tammye Nash  |  Senior Editor
nash@dallasvoice.com

FORT WORTH — Gay Western Hills High School teacher Kristopher Franks, put on paid administrative leave on Monday, Sept. 26, following allegations of improper behavior, has been cleared of all allegations and was set to return to work today (Friday, Sept. 30).

Franks is the teacher who  became the target of ire from the religious right after he sent a student in his German 1 class to the principal’s office for saying in class that as a Christian he believed “homosexuality is wrong.” The school’s assistance principal then suspended the student, setting off a controversy that made headlines around the country.

That student, freshman Dakota Ary, and his mother enlisted the assistance of Liberty Counsel attorney Matt Krause in fighting the suspension on the grounds that Franks and the school had violated Ary’s right to freedom of speech.

District officials quickly reversed their decision, lifting the suspension.

But Steven Poole, deputy executive director for the United Educators Association of Texas, a teachers union, said Tuesday, Sept. 27, that the allegations leading to Franks being put on leave were unrelated to the incident with Ary.

Franks, who had not spoken to the press previously on the advice of his union representative, said Thursday afternoon that he had just met with Fort Worth Independent School District administrators, who told him the nearly weeklong investigation had determined that the allegations against him were unfounded. He did not elaborate on the substance of those allegations.

Franks also said administrators had given him the option of returning to teach at Western Hills High or transferring to another school in the district.

“I haven’t made up my mind yet what I’m going to do,” Franks told Dallas Voice by phone Thursday afternoon. “I’m going to go back to work tomorrow, and I will talk to my boss [the district’s world languages supervisor], and see what she says and decide what’s the best thing to ­do from there.”

FWISD Board of Trustees member Dr. Carlos Vasquez told Dallas Voice in a phone call Wednesday afternoon, Sept. 28, 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 said Thursday that he was pleased with the outcome of the investigation, carried out by an independent investigator, and that interim FWISD Supt. Walter Dansby was “very nice” when they spoke.

“I think they did the right thing,” Franks said. “I can go back to work, which is great. But now I just have to figure out how to fix the damage this whole thing has done to my personal life.”

Franks said since the investigation is closed, he is no longer being represented by a union attorney. He has, instead, retained the services of attorney Stephen Gordon to “represent me on any aspects of this whole thing going forward.”

He also indicated that he and Gordon would be discussing what possible actions he might take against “those people who have lied and made false allegations against me.”

While Franks had previously declined to speak to the media, Daokta Ary, his mother and Krause as their attorney 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.

Krause this week told Dallas Voice that he and his clients are satisfied with school officials’ decision to rescind the unexcused absences the suspension left on Ary’s record, but “we would still like for them [school officials] to completely vindicate him and say that he did nothing wrong. He should never have been written up for an infraction. He should never have been sent to the office, and he should never have been suspended.”

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.

Dakota Ary

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 make 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.

Krause this week again said that Ary did not direct his remark in class that day at Franks, and that Ary had nothing to do with tearing down the photo of the men kissing.

The attorney also said that Ary told him he did not know to whom Franks was referring when he talked about Ary’s “three friends.”

The Franks case comes in the wake of months of scandal over allegations by teachers that administrators routinely allowed some teachers and administrators to harass and bully students and other teachers, and that teachers who complained often faced retaliation.

Vasquez, who is openly gay, said Wednesday that he believed the Franks investigation would be fair, that he would watch the situation closely “to make sure all the proper procedures are followed,” and that he believed Dansby would handle the situation fairly.

“Considering all the problems we’ve had, I know he [Dansby] will be watching this closely,” Vasquez said.

Vasquez said it is the school district’s responsibility to make sure there is “no harassment in our schools, whether it’s from the teacher to the student, or student to student or even student to teacher. I know that happens, sometimes, too.

“There should be no harassment whatsoever in our schools,” Vasquez , himself a former teacher, said.

Fort Worth ISD has been credited with having one of the most comprehensive anti-bullying and anti-harassment policies in the state, having adopted individual policies within the last year to include prohibitions against harassment and bullying, including that based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression, for both teachers and students.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 30, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

WATCH: Youth First Texas’ ‘You’re Not Alone’ project, a peer-to-peer version of ‘It Gets Better’

When members of Youth First Texas went to Austin in March to lobby for anti-bullying legislation, they did a better job of explaining the importance of such laws than any of the adults who were there. They were able to look senators and representatives in the eye and tell them personal experiences about having been bullied. Some of the youth told lawmakers they had attempted suicide, something that wouldn’t have happened if schools took bullying more seriously.

Walking back from the Capitol to a local church that was hosting lunch, the YFT members had an idea to make videos about their experiences. First, they sent copies to State Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, who shared them with other members of the Education Committee. But the videos also had another purpose — saving lives. While the “It Gets Better” videos are mostly adults telling teens they’ll get through their bad experiences in high school, YFT’s “You’re Not Alone” videos contain messages from LGBT youth to LGBT youth.

Watch the first set of videos from YFT’s “You’re Not Alone” project after the jump.

—  David Taffet

Joel Burns live today on CNN News Room

Joel Burns

According to Joel Burns’ Facebook page, he’ll be on CNN NewsRoom at 12:15 p.m., CST, (that’s about 15 minutes from now) to talk about local anti-bullying efforts and “the growing national conversation” around bullying.

According to the schedule posted at CNN.com, Joel will be talking with Ali Velshi.

Check your local listings for the right channel.

—  admin

WATCH: Seagoville student endures classroom beatdown — as teacher watches

As the Texas Legislature continues to stall in taking action on the numerous anti-bullying bills introduced this session, this story posted Monday on WFAA.com proves once again that our children really aren’t safe in school — sometimes even when there is a teacher standing right by them.

Michael Milczanowksi

WFAA.com reports that Seagoville High School sophomore Michael Milczanowksi was attacked and beaten up by a fellow student in his geometry class as the teacher, who isn’t identified, stands by and watches without even trying to intervene. At least not physically. Other students videotaped the attack as it happened, and you can watch that video below.

Dallas Independent School District officials have said the incident is being investigated, but the teacher’s union is supporting the teacher. Alliance/AFT representative Rena Honeo told WFAA: “Teachers have intervened in the past. They have been injured. They have not been able to return to work. They have been reprimanded for intervening. So there is a huge question mark as to what’s truly appropriate.”

Meanwhile Michael Milczanowksi has left Seagoville High. The report doesn’t say if he is going to school somewhere else. The report also doesn’t say why the student attacked Michael, who said he had felt threatened at school for some time, and it doesn’t mention bullying, either.

I am not saying this has anything to do with LGBT issues in any way, shape or form. But I think this is obviously about one student being bullied — physically bullied — and about a teacher standing by and letting it happen. If this isn’t proof enough for lawmakers that we need some kind of legislation to protect our children, then I don’t know what it would take.

—  admin

Addressing the problem of school bullying

Bullying in schools is a problem everywhere. And the problem is growing.

Last week, Massachusetts passed a new anti-bullying law.

NewsWest9This week, the NBC Midland affiliate ran a decent story on bullying, but while most bullying targets LGBT students, the Channel 9 story only obliquely referred to them.

“Over time, the sexually charged rumors, name-calling and even vandalism became overwhelming for Kaitlin.”

For the full video, go here.

While all bullying should be addressed, studies show laws that cover bullying in a general way are often ignored by school staff when LGBT youth are victims. Laws need to specifically cover LGBT youth for them to be protected.

In Massachusetts, the Boston Globe reports that groups may challenge the new anti-bullying law based on free speech. Apparently, some feel after teaching their children to hate, the kids have a right to practice what they’ve learned.

Anti-bullying legislation has been introduced in the Texas Legislature each session since the early 1990s and in recent years has gotten out of committee, but has not passed. If a current anti-bullying bill authored by Rep. Mark Strama passes in 2011, it would be the first major pro-LGBT legislation to become law in Texas since the hate crimes statute of 2001.

—  David Taffet

New tactic from the right wing

Rep. Matt Windschitl

Rep. Matt Windschitl

Iowa’s right wing is pushing for a vote on same-sex marriage. They’re using a new tactic.

In their decision, the Iowa Supreme Court cited state laws such as the anti-bullying law that includes protections for LGBT students.

So two Republicans in the Iowa House, Jason Schultz and Matt Windschitl, now want to remove protection for LGBT students to pave the way for an anti-same-sex marriage vote. They have filed the Exclude Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender (LGBT) Students from Safe Schools Law.

Opponents of equality are showing just how desperate they have become. If other tactics don’t work, file a law that tells bullies to beat up LGBT kids. Simply, incite violence to get their way.

—  David Taffet