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

FWISD adds LGBTs to policy

Tom Anable
Tom Anable

Change includes bullying in anti-harassment rules, specifically lists gender identity, expression in protected classes

TAMMYE NASH  |  Senior Editor
nash@dallasvoice.com

The board of the Fort Worth Independent School District this week quietly approved a new anti-bullying policy for employees that specifically includes prohibitions based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.

The policy passed as part of the consent agenda after a second reading during the Tuesday night, Jan. 18 school board meeting. Clint Bond, external communications coordinator for the district, said Wednesday, Jan. 19, that a similar policy applying to students will likely be approved in the near future.

“The student policy hasn’t been changed yet, but it is certainly under discussion,” Bond said. “I think that will go forward and probably will include an update in the near future.”

The student policy already includes “sexual orientation” in the enumerated list of protected classes, but not “gender identity or expression.”

School district officials have said in the past that when they amended the policy to include sexual orientation, they believed that phrase also included gender identity.

The new Employee Welfare Freedom From Discrimination, Harassment and Retaliation policy, in essence, amends the previous policy to include specific prohibitions against bullying and to specifically include “gender identity or expression” and “military/veteran status” among the protected classes, Bond said.

It also switches responsibility for administering the policy from the Human Resources department to the new Employee Health and Wellness Department, he said.

Under the policy, the school district is required to “provide training and counseling as needed promote awareness of this policy and the elimination of bullying, harassment, discrimination, or retaliation based on race, ethnicity, religion, gender, disability, age, or sexual orientation, or gender identity and expression, or military/veteran status throughout the district.”

In addition to bullying, the policy prohibits discrimination including harassment, and briefly defines the terms discrimination, harassment and bullying, although it does not include the term “cyberbullying.” Bond said other policies define bullying to include cyberbullying.

The new policy also describes the process for reporting and investigation any such incidents.

Tom Anable, president of Fairness Fort Worth, said this week the new policy “looks to be thorough” and is “a very positive step forward for the employees of the Fort Worth ISD.”

He noted that the new policy has the support of the local teachers union and stressed that the amendments to the policy were pushed by FWISD administrators, not community advocates.

“This has been an administration-led effort, which is an even more positive sign that they are really looking at their policies across the board,” Anable said. “They pretty much initiated this on their own. And I think it is really nice that they took the initiative in this without a lot of outside pushing.”

Anable acknowledged that the decision to add “gender identity and expression” to the FWISD policy was likely a response to a vote by Dallas Independent School District trustees in November to enact a specifically LGBT-inclusive anti-bullying policy.

But he also stressed that Fort Worth was already moving in the right direction before the DISD vote, and that community advocates have not had to push as hard for the changes, as Dallas activists did.

“Yes, this is pretty much a response to what the Dallas school district did, but Fort Worth had already added ‘sexual orientation’ to their policies back in March. When they saw what Dallas did, they went back and checked their policies. And when they realized some of the language was missing, they immediately started the dialog to make the changes they needed to make,” Anable said.

“We have had some nice conversations with people in the administration, but it hasn’t taken us the kind of effort it took in Dallas to get this done,” he said.

Anable said he was pleased to see that the policy change “went through on the consent agenda and there wasn’t a big uproar about it.” But he warned that might not be the case when the board discusses changing the policy relating to students.

“This has been very low-key, without a lot of fuss. But when [anti-gay activists] hear about this, they will probably be watching for the student policy to come up for a vote,” he said.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Jan. 21, 2011.

—  John Wright

Resource Center calls on DISD to add LGBT protections to proposed new anti-bullying policy

IMPORTANT UPDATE: RCD’s Rafael McDonnell reports that those wishing to speak at Thursday’s DISD meeting must sign up by 5 p.m. Wednesday by calling board services at 972-925-3720.

Resource Center Dallas is calling on the Dallas Independent School District to add protections for LGBT students to a proposed new anti-bullying policy. As we reported yesterday, the new anti-bullying policy is slated to be discussed Thursday by DISD’s board of trustees. A final vote is expected at the end of the month, but as currently written, the policy doesn’t include specific prohibitions against bullying based on actual or perceived sexual orientation, or gender identity and expression. Which seems odd given the fact that we are in the midst of an epidemic of teen suicides related to anti-gay bullying and harassment, including at least one in Texas. Resource Center is encouraging people to contact the nine members of DISD’s Board of Trustees and demand that they amend the policy to include LGBT students. RCD has also sent its own letter to each of the nine trustees, which we’ve posted below. From RCD’s press release:

“We are pleased that DISD is revisiting its approach to bullying. Unfortunately, the proposed policy does not define which students are to be protected by it. As a result, it does not provide specific protections for LGBT students. It is vital for this board to specifically articulate who this policy is designed to protect, rather than simply stating a broad definition of bullying. Absent any specific protections, it could be inferred that it would be okay to bully students based on their real or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. Given the rash of LGBT bullying-related suicides in recent weeks—including one in the greater Houston area—specifically articulated protections are not formalities; they are essential.

“Resource Center Dallas encourages the North Texas LGBT community to contact the nine members of the DISD board. Encourage them to modify the proposed anti-bullying policy to specifically include LGBT students. Board members still have time to improve the protections for the youngest members of our community. Contact information, including phone numbers and e-mail, can be found at http://www.dallasisd.org/about/boardcontact.htm. Additionally, if you are able to attend the DISD board meeting Thursday, October 14 at 11:30 a.m. at 3700 Ross Avenue in Dallas, please do so. A representative of the Center will address the board on these issues.”

—  John Wright