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

UPDATE: Police release description of missing vehicle belonging to NE Dallas murder victim

Earlier we told you about the two men found dead in a burned Northeast Dallas apartment. Police are still not releasing the victims’ names because their bodies were so badly damaged in the fire that they’re waiting on the medical examiner to positively identify them. However, police have now released a description of the vehicle belonging to one of the victims, which is apparently missing. The vehicle is a silver, four-door 2002 Saturn L200, with a license number of 5CVDN. If you see it, call 911.

Again, police have confirmed that they believe the two victims were a gay couple, but they aren’t treating the murders as a hate crime. Police also say they don’t know the motive for the crime, prompting some to question how a hate crime can be ruled out. We posed this question to DPD Sr. Cpl. Kevin Janse:

“Detectives will not elaborate at this time,” Janse told Instant Tea. “It may hamper the investigation.”

—  John Wright

UPDATE: Police say man found shot to death in Oak Lawn may have committed suicide

Earlier we reported that 28-year-old Javier Ahumada was found shot to death at an apartment on Dickason Avenue in Oak Lawn on Monday night. Sr. Cpl. Kevin Janse, a spokesman for the Dallas Police Department, said the actual address of the complex is 4120 Dickason Ave. He also provided the following update:

“We are still waiting for the M.E. [Medical Examiner's] report but are not ruling out anything at this point. He had mental issues and has tried to harm himself in the past. This may very well be a suicide but we will wait for the M.E. to rule on that. A weapon was found by his body.”

—  John Wright

Dan Ramos to resign Thursday morning?

Dan Ramos

The mainstream media is finally starting to pick up on the story of Dan Ramos, the chairman of the Bexar County Democratic Party who thinks gays are like very sinister Nazi termites with polio legs who are not natural but can’t be swept under the rug — so you might as well seek their endorsement! (This whole thing just goes to show that mental illness is totally nonpartisan.) The ABC affiliate in San Antonio reports tonight that Ramos will hold a press conference at his office Thursday morning, but it’s unclear what for. We’re sure Democrats all over the state — and maybe even some Republicans — are hoping Ramos will come to his senses and heed the many calls for his resignation, but don’t bet the farm on it. A spokesman for the Bexar County Democratic Party’s steering committee said of Ramos, “He’s been in the trenches for a long time and he’s not going to go without a fight.”

 

—  John Wright

Police blotter: Hit-and-run on Cedar Springs

Valentine’s Day got off to a bad start when a motorist intentionally struck two pedestrians near Havana Bar & Grill on Cedar Springs Road early Monday, according to police reports.

Reports say the suspect and the victim, a 39-year-old black male, got into an argument that became a physical fight at about 2 a.m. at 4008 Cedar Springs Road. After a security guard stepped in to break up the fight, the suspect got in a vehicle and intentionally accelerated toward the victim. The suspect’s vehicle struck the victim as well as a witness, before the suspect fled northbound on Cedar Springs Road. The two injured people were taken to Parkland hospital.

Sr. Cpl. Kevin Janse, a spokesman for the Dallas Police Department, said Tuesday that police hadn’t made any arrests.

“Victim is claiming he doesn’t remember what happened,” Janse said. “No one knows the suspect and there are conflicting stories about what really took place. Detectives will continue to try to get to the bottom of what really happened. It is unknown the condition of the victim at this time.”

The suspect’s vehicle is described as a cream-colored, four-door Nissan. Anyone with information can call the Crimes Against Persons Division at 214- 671-3584.

—  John Wright

HRC says Jeb Hensarling of Dallas could pose major threat to gay rights in new Congress

The Human Rights Campaign says Jeb Hensarling is “extremely connected and close to a lot of the right-wing religious groups.”

Following the release of a Human Rights Campaign report showing an anti-LGBT majority in the new U.S. House — which we mentioned earlier — we requested a full list of which lawmakers the group considers anti-LGBT, pro-LGBT and mixed.

“Sorry but the list is proprietary and we aren’t releasing the names publicly,” HRC spokesman Michael Cole told us moments ago.

Naturally, we were interested to see how HRC categorizes various Texas lawmakers. And while HRC isn’t releasing its secret list, we do know about one member of the GOP leadership from Texas whom the group considers a major threat — our old buddy Jeb Hensarling of Dallas, who chairs the House Republican Caucus. From The HuffPo’s piece about the HRC report:

“I think they’re going to have to give some red meat to their base, and I assume it’s either going to be anti-gay, anti-choice, or anti-immigrant, or all of the above,” said [HRC legislative director Allison] Herwitt. “So I just think that when you have someone like Jeb Hensarling, who is chairman of the House Republican Conference, he’s extremely connected and close to a lot of  the right-wing religious groups, so there’s going to be pressure on the leadership to deliver on some of these issues.”

—  John Wright

Funeral services today in Rowlett for murdered gay restaurant owner Aaron Cheung

Aaron Cheung

A memorial service for Aaron Cheung, a gay restaurant owner who was found shot to death in northeast Dallas on Sunday, will be at 3 p.m. today at Resthaven Funeral Chapel, at 3761 Rowlett Road, in Rowlett.

Alex Ortega, one of Cheung’s best friends, said everyone who knew him is invited. Ortega said Cheung was an only child and he hopes the service will help his parents cope.

“I think it’s a really good thing for his family to be able to see how many people he affected,” Ortega said. “He really did do a lot for people who were in his life. If he cared about you, he would give you the world. He would do just about anything to help you out.”

Meanwhile, authorities say the homeless man arrested for using Cheung’s debit card remains a “person of interest” in his murder. Charles Edward Freeman, 58, is charged with fraudulent use or possession of identifying information and is being held on $50,000 bail.

“There’s not enough evidence to list him as a suspect,” said Sr. Cpl. Kevin Janse, a spokesman for DPD. “It’s going to take some forensic evidence before they can list him as a suspect.”

Anyone with information about the case is asked to call the Dallas Police Department’s homicide unit at 214-671-3661.

—  John Wright

Dallas police seek info in gay man’s murder

Moments ago the Dallas Police Department sent out the below alert seeking information in the murder of Aaron Cheung, a 27-year-old gay man who was found fatally shot in northeast Dallas on Sunday morning.

According to the alert, an unknown suspect wearing a black hoodie and black pants was seen running from the scene of Cheung’s murder.

Sr. Cpl. Kevin Janse, a spokesman for DPD, confirmed Monday afternoon that investigators don’t believe the incident was a hate crime.

“Nothing leads the detectives to believe his sexual orientation played a role in this offense,” Janse said. “Robbery is believed to be the motive. No suspect or witnesses at this time.”

Anyone with information is asked to call homicide at 214-671-3661 or 214-671-3618.

—  John Wright

Texas senators go quiet on DADT repeal

Dallas Log Cabin Republicans President Rob Schlein, left, and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison

Dave Guy-Gainer, a local board member for the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, reported Monday night:

“Well I tried again to meet with Senator Hutchison or her staff. The Dallas number rang busy all day Friday. So, I tried their fax and it went thru. I proposed an establish communications’ meeting with myself and four other, major Dallas leaders. It’s Monday nite and I didn’t hear squat back. Guess she isn’t interested in representing us at all.”

Dallas Voice also contacted the offices of both Hutchison and Sen. John Cornyn on Monday to find out where they stand on the standalone measure to repeal DADT. But as of this morning, we had received no response — not even from Cornyn spokesman Kevin McLaughlin, who normally at least acknowledges our existence. After all, dealing with the media is part of McLaughlin’s taxpayer-funded job.

We also never heard back from McLaughlin about why Cornyn missed last week’s failed cloture vote on the Defense Authorization Act, to which DADT repeal was attached. (Hutchison voted against closure, joining the Republican filibuster that blocked the bill.)

This morning we contacted Rob Schlein, president of the Dallas chapter of Log Cabin Republicans, to find out whether he’d had any contact with the two senators’ offices about DADT repeal.

Schlein said he has not but is pretty sure they will vote against it.

“I am going to say that I wouldn’t suspect that they would support it, just because that’s been their history,” Schlein said. “I really don’t know, but it won’t surprise me if they both vote against it. You’ve got to remember that part of the senators’ job is to vote their constituency. I know the polls show the majority of the nation supports repeal, but I’m sure that in Texas, the numbers are a little bit different.”

Schlein added that their votes aren’t really that important, because there’s enough Republican support to pass DADT repeal in the Senate. He again blamed Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, for failing to pass DADT repeal sooner.

“The more interesting question is, will Reid put the bill on the floor without sabotaging it?” Schlein said. “If the process is right, if Reid doesn’t play any more games and he doesn’t attach any unrelated amendments like the DREAM Act, I think it will pass.”

If you’d like to try to contact the senators yourself, Hutchison is at 202-224-5922 and Cornyn is at 202-224-2934.

—  John Wright

SHOCKER: With Pentagon study complete, Sen. Cornyn has new excuse for opposing DADT repeal

Sen. John Cornyn

With the Pentagon study on repealing “don’t ask don’t tell” to be released today, we inquired of Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn’s office whether he believes it would now be prudent to move forward on this issue during the lame duck session of Congress. After all, Cornyn told us in June he didn’t believe Congress should act on DADT repeal until the study was complete.

Here’s the response we received moments ago from Cornyn spokesman Kevin McClaughlin:

“There are a handful of time sensitive issues that must be addressed during lame duck. A continuing resolution to fund the government, the medicare reimbursement rate also known as the ‘doc fix,’ and preventing every American from incurring a massive tax increase on the first of the year just to name a few. Sen. Cornyn believes these things should be the focus of the lame duck session.’

So there you have it. Repealing a discriminatory policy that hurts the military and is opposed by the vast majority of Americans is simply not a priority for our junior senator, who by every indication will be joining his party’s filibuster of the Defense spending bill to which the DADT amendment is attached. A better question at this point would probably be whether Cornyn will introduce toxic anti-gay amendments to the Defense bill if Democrats can overcome the filibuster — such as a measure to overturn same-sex marriage in D.C. If you’ll remember, this is what Cornyn tried to do with health care reform.

We still haven’t heard back on a similar inquiry to Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison’s office, but don’t get your hopes up.

—  John Wright