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

SU deconstructs the Pentagon’s ‘poorly designed, biased and derogatory survey instruments’

When the Pentagon’s survey was released over the weekend, Servicemembers United’s Executive Director Alex Nicholson issued a statement, but promised a more thorough analysis today. That analysis has arrived in the form of a briefing memo titled, Assessment of the 2010 DoD Comprehensive Review Survey of Service Member Spouses, which can be found here as a pdf. The actual survey is embedded in this post.

Here’s the statement from Alex, which accompanied the release of the briefing memo:

“While it is wise to solicit and consider military spouse input on policy changes that will have a major impact on military families, it is extremely unwise to do so for issues that have minimal impact on spouses while also using poorly designed, biased and derogatory survey instruments,” said Alexander Nicholson, Executive Director of Servicemembers United and a former U.S. Army interrogator who was discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” “The Pentagon should be concerned with real family readiness issues like excessive deployments, inadequate mental health screenings and support, low troop pay, reductions in housing subsidies for military families, and inadequate spousal employment support instead of spending .4 million on a politically-motivated and unnecessary survey about gays and lesbians.”

And, here’s an excerpt from the memo:

14) Question 29: “Assume Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is repealed and your spouse is deployed. Would the presence of a partner of a gay or lesbian Service member affect how often you attend deployment-support activities?” (and one similar question – question 35)

This has to be the single most insensitive, disrespectful, selfish, and just plain cruel question in the entire spouse survey. The partners of gay and lesbian troops who are deployed hurt, worry, cry, stress, and suffer just as much – if not more, because of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” – than the partners and spouses of straight troops. To even entertain the idea, much less suggest it, that fleeting discomfort of straight partners and spouses should lead to denial of support for the agonizing partners of gay and lesbian troops is simply horrendous, cruel, and inhumane. Keep in mind that even the girlfriends and boyfriends of straight troops get some support during their partners’ deployments. So a straight one- night-stand is given a higher priority under current military policy – and this question – than a devoted partner of 20 years.

I stand by what I wrote on Saturday in my first post about the spouse’s survey:

You have to wonder how the hell the Pentagon came up with these questions. Makes me think Elaine Donnelly had a hand in writing the survey. And, we’ve been told repeatedly, the Pentagon study is about “how” to implement repeal, not “if.” But, everything we see from the Pentagon seems to be a lesson in how not to implement repeal.




AMERICAblog Gay

—  John Wright

SU blasts ‘insulting and derogatory’ DADT survey sent to military spouses

Servicemembers United obtained a copy of the Pentagon’s latest survey on DADT. (I I posted the survey on scribd.com and embedded it below.) This one goes to military spouses. Here’s the statement from SU’s Alex Nicholson:

“This survey of military spouses contains many of the same insulting and derogatory assumptions and insinuations about gays and lesbians that ran throughout the last survey,” said Alexander Nicholson, Executive Director of Servicemembers United and a former U.S. Army Human Intelligence Collector who was discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” “Answer choices suggest things like the Defense Department possibly distributing flyers in military neighborhoods if, as they say, ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ is repealed and that the ‘readiness’ of military families might somehow be impacted. Again we stress that neither the President, the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff nor anyone else would ever stand for such insulting questions being asked about any other minority group in the military in this day and age. The Pentagon’s senior leadership should seriously consider Servicemembers United’s offer to meet with them in person to talk about the insensitivity of these surveys and how the poor handling of these surveys might negatively impact implementation.”

Politico provides a recap of some of the questions — and they are insulting and derogatory:

The 13-page survey, similar to one sent to troops earlier this year, poses 44 questions on a range of topics. Among the questions:

“Assume Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is repealed. If the partner of a gay or lesbian Service member participated in a family support program, would it affect your participation?”

“Assume Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is repealed. Would repeal affect your family readiness?”

The survey also asks spouses if they live on base and how they would react to an openly gay or lesbian service member or partner living nearby. The list of answers include: “I would make a special effort to get to know the gay or lesbian service member and partner” or “I would generally avoid them when I could” or “I would do nothing.”

See for yourself. Here’s the survey. You have to wonder how the hell the Pentagon came up with these questions. Makes me think Elaine Donnelly had a hand in writing the survey. And, we’ve been told repeatedly, the Pentagon study is about “how” to implement repeal, not “if.” But, everything we see from the Pentagon seems to be a lesson in how not to implement repeal:
Pentagon’s DADT Spouse Survey




AMERICAblog Gay

—  John Wright