Mother, son file lawsuit following classroom uproar over homosexuality

Let me outline a situation for you:

A high school student speaks up in class to declare that his religious beliefs tell him homosexuality is wrong and prevent him from supporting gay rights. The gay teacher makes the student leave class. The student’s mom brings in a right-wing lawyer to raise a ruckus and claims the student is being punished and discriminated against simply for speaking out about his religious beliefs. The teacher says things didn’t go quite the way the student claims. The teacher is suspended, but that suspension is eventually lifted.

Sounds a lot like what happened recently at Western Hills High School in Fort Worth, right? You remember the story, with gay teacher Kris Franks sending freshman Dakota Ary to the principal’s office after Ary said in class that he is a Christian and therefore believes homosexuality is wrong. Ary said he was simply making a comment to a friend in relation to a discussion going on in class. Franks said Ary was being belligerent, that there was no discussion going on about gays and that Ary’s comment had been just the latest in a string of anti-gay bullying behaviors targeting Franks. Ary was suspended; his mom called in right-wing Liberty Counsel lawyer Matt Krause who got the suspension lifted. The Franks was suspended on “unrelated” accusations of “inappropriate” behavior, but was soon cleared of the charges.

You remember that story, right? Well, good, but that’s not the story I am talking about here. This is a different one.

Jay McDowell

This week, the Thomas More Law Center, a conservative Christian legal foundation, filed suit in federal court on behalf of Sandra Glowacki, a Catholic, who claims that the Howell Public School District in Howell, Mich., and teacher Johnson “Jay” McDowell violated the constitutional rights of her son, 16-year-old Daniel Glowacki, when McDowell kicked him out of class on Oct. 20, 2010 — when the school district was observing anti-bullying day and Spirit Day — because Daniel Glowacki told McDowell that as a Catholic, his religion prevented him from supporting gay rights.

The lawsuit claims that McDowell wore a “Tyler’s Army” T-shirt that day in memory of gay college student Tyler Clementi, who had committed suicide after being bullied, and that McDowell had used his class all day to “promote homosexuality.” The lawsuit says McDowell had told a female student to remove a Confederate flag belt buckle because he was offended by it. Then when Daniel Glowacki asked why it was OK to display a rainbow flag promoting LGBT rights, McDowell asked whether Glowacki supported gay rights. When Glowacki said his religion prohibited him from doing so, McDowell made him and another student with similar views leave the class.

McDowell was suspended for violating school district policy, but the suspension was later lifted to settle the grievance complaint Johnson filed.

Robert Muise, a lawyer with the Thomas More Center, is representing the Glowackis. He says that the school district and McDowell were trying to “indoctrinate” Daniel Glowacki into believing that homosexuality is normal, and that Glowacki was bullied by the teacher and the school district because of his religious beliefs. Muise wants the judge to rule that McDowell and the school district violated Glowacki’s constitutional rights, to enjoin the district and the teacher from “favoring homosexuality” over opposing religious views, and to award the Glowackis damages in the case.

—  admin

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

Investigation into allegations against FWISD teacher expected to conclude today or Thursday

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.

—  admin

Liberty Counsel attorney says teacher’s ‘pro-gay’ comments led to FW student’s suspension

Matt Krause

More details are emerging about an incident we first reported on Wednesday, in which 14-year-old student Dakota Ary alleges that he was suspended from a Fort Worth high school for saying he thinks homosexuality is wrong. From CBS 11:

The comment came during a German class, where conversation turned to vocabulary for Christianity and the Bible. Dakota said one student asked about translations for homosexual terms.

Fox News reports that the attorney hired by Dakota’s family, Matt Krause of the right-wing Liberty Counsel, blames the teacher for bringing up the topic:

Krause called the incident “mind blowing” and said the teacher had frequently brought homosexuality into ninth grade classroom discussions.

“There has been a history with this teacher in the class regarding homosexual topics,” Krause said. “The teacher had posted a picture of two men kissing on a wall that offended some of the students.”

Krause said the picture was posted on the teacher’s “world wall.”

“He told the students this is happening all over the world and you need to accept the fact that homosexuality is just part of our culture now,” Krause said. “In German class there should be no talk of being pro-Gay or homosexual topics.”

It’s unfortunate that neither the district nor the teacher can comment, which means we’re only getting one side of the story. Krause’s comments, while intended to defend Dakota’s behavior, would seem to indicate that there’s more to this than he’s letting on.

Watch a report from CBS 11 below.

—  John Wright

WATCH: Fort Worth high school student suspended for saying homosexuality is wrong

A student at a Fort Worth high school alleges he was suspended for saying he believes homosexuality is wrong. Fox 4 reports:

Fourteen-year-old Dakota Ary spent most of the day Tuesday serving an in-school suspension. It was punishment for discussion in his German class at Fort Worth’s Western Hills High School.

“We were talking about religions in Germany. I said, ‘I’m a Christian. I think being a homosexual is wrong,’” he said. “It wasn’t directed to anyone except my friend who was sitting behind me. I guess [the teacher] heard me. He started yelling. He told me he was going to write me an infraction and send me to the office.”

Dakota says an assistant principal reduced his suspension from two days to one after hearing his version of what happened, but his mother has hired an attorney, Matt Krause of the Liberty Counsel. They met with school administators today and demanded that the suspension be removed from Dakota’s record and that he be protected against “retaliation.” The school district isn’t commenting on the incident.

—  John Wright

Gov. Perry to break anti-gay boycott of CPAC

Gov. Rick Perry

Where is the outrage?

According to multiple reports, Texas Republican Gov. Rick Perry has accepted an invitation to speak at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in February, thereby breaking a boycott of the conference by socially conservative groups over the inclusion of the gay group GOProud as a participating organization.

“Happy to announce that Governor Rick Perry is confirmed to speak at CPAC 2011,” the conference announced last week on its Facebook page.

According to the Washington Times, groups boycotting this year’s conference include the Heritage Foundation, the Family Research Council, the Center for Military Readiness, the American Family Association, the American Principles Project, the Liberty Counsel and the National Organization for Marriage:

“The base-line reason is that homosexuality is not a conservative value,” said Bryan Fischer, the American Family Association’s director of issue analysis. “It’s the conservative PAC, not the libertarian PAC.”

Of course, these same groups and their members have historically been among Perry’s biggest supporters, and he’s been among their strongest anti-gay allies. But now that Perry is considering running for vice president, he’s apparently willing to throw them under the bus in exchange for a high-profile speaking engagement. What’s next, accepting an award from Log Cabin Republicans? Taking a gay lover? Wait, maybe he’s already done that.

Anyhow, we’ve left a message with the governor’s press office to try to find out what in the hell he was thinking, but we haven’t heard back.

Again, we ask, where is the outrage?


—  John Wright