Advocacy group says school officials need to implement training, enforcement processes
Tammye Nash | Senior Editor
FORT WORTH — Representatives of Fairness Fort Worth are set to meet next Tuesday, Oct. 25, with Walter Dansby, interim superintendent of the Fort Worth
Independent School District, and FFW President Tom Anable said his organization is hoping to see the district’s plans for implementing training and enforcement processes related to its anti-harassment and anti-bullying policies.
In the past year, the Fort Worth school board has, since the first of this year, expanded the district’s anti-harassment and anti-bullying policies to include protections based on gender identity and gender expression; protections based on sexual orientation were already included.
The board voted in January to include those protections in policies applying to faculty and staff members, and in June to policies applying to students.
LGBT advocates have routinely praised the district for those votes, noting that the changes make the FWISD policies among the most progressive and comprehensive in the state. This week, however, Anable said advocates have become frustrated with the district’s slow progress in implementing training regarding the policies and in enforcing them.
“They are talking the talk, now we want them to walk the walk,” Anable said.
He pointed to a series of recent incidences in Fort Worth schools as evidence that training and enforcement are lacking, including the mid-September furor that erupted over a Western Hills High School student’s alleged anti-gay comments in class.
Dakota Ary told the media that his German class teacher, Kristopher Franks, sent him to the principal after he made a comment to a friend during a classroom discussion, basically saying that as a Christian, he believes homosexuality is wrong.
Franks, however, said that Ary made the comment directly to him, that the comment was not pertinent to any classroom discussion and
that it was part of a pattern of anti-gay comments and behavior aimed at him by Ary and three other students in the class.
Although Ary was initially suspended, school officials rescinded the punishment and cleared his record after Ary’s mother brought in Liberty Counsel’s Matt Krause to represent them and complained to school district officials.
Within days, school officials notified Franks that they were launching an investigation of him based on unrelated charges of inappropriate behavior that had just surfaced. Franks was suspended with pay for the duration of the investigation, but returned to the classroom three days later after the investigation cleared him of any wrongdoing.
Franks still ended up with a “letter of concern” in his file, the lowest form of discipline the district can take against a teacher, and was required to take a course in classroom management.
In an email to school board members dated Oct. 4, Franks also said that the Western Hills High School principal had, on his first day back in class, conducted an in-class evaluation — during the class that includes Dakota Ary — that Franks said was unwarranted and overly harsh. Franks said the principal refused to discipline a student who put on a pink shirt and “a pink lady’s hat” and pranced around the room to mock Franks, even though the principal was in the room when it happened.
Franks also said he learned from other students that the group of students who had been harassing him previously, during the time while he was suspended, were allowed by a substitute teacher to “dress in drag” and make fun of Franks.
Although Franks has since told colleagues the problem had been addressed and settled to his satisfaction, Anable said this week that the fact the harassment was allowed in the first place points to a lack of training and enforcement on the anti-harassment and anti-bullying policies.
In a second recent incident, a secretary at Carter-Riverside High School recently sent a memo through the school’s email system in which she quoted biblical passages supposedly condemning homosexuality while questioning the wisdom of allowing a “gender-bending day” during the school’s homecoming week activities.
“I am concerned that it may cause more confusion with those who are struggling with their own sexuality, which is common for teens,” wrote Victoria Martinez, who works in the school’s internal finance office.
She continued, “As representatives of FWISD, I would hate to think we are partakers of encouraging a lifestyle, which is an abomination unto the LORD, and which may not be acceptable to many parents of our children. We should strive to keep our students’ focus on academics and not what they or others are doing in the bedroom.”
And, Anable said, there have been reports that same-sex couples at the district’s Diamon Hill-Jarvis High School have been disciplined for holding hands at school, while opposite-sex couples holding hands have not gotten in trouble.
Openly gay FWISD Board of Trustees member Carlos Vasquez said Wednesday that he was disappointed that Fairness Fort Worth had decided to go public with its criticisms since, “We have already solved most of the issues and concerns they are bringing up.”
Vasquez said that had “visited with Kris Franks” during the recent Tarrant County Gay Pride Picnic, and that while “there were some concerns on his first day back in the class, those were quickly resolved.”
And Vasquez said that district officials had responded quickly to Martinez’s email, removing it from the email system and reprimanding the secretary.
“As soon as this was brought to my attention, I spoke to Supt. Dansby, the superintendent took care of it immediately,” Vasquez said, adding that Dansby “took the appropriate measures” against Martinez but that he could not elaborate further because he cannot discuss personnel matters.
Vasquez also said that he had not heard of any complaints from Diamon Hill-Jarvis before a call Wednesday from Dallas Voice.
“That’s one of my schools. It’s in my [school board] district,” Vasquez said. “I have already called the principal there and she said she had not heard anything about that, either. She assured me that all the students are being treated fairly.”
Vasquez continued, “I am kind of surprised that [Fairness Fort Worth] felt the need to go to the press with this. Supt. Dansby is working with the LGBT community, he’s working with me on these issues. This is the most open this school district has ever been with the LGBT community.”
But Anable said Fairness Fort Worth is simply trying to let the school district know that the community is watching and expects the district to follow through on its commitments in terms of training and enforcement of the anti-harassment and anti-bullying policies.
“We are not trying to be overly critical. But we do want them to know that we will keep the pressure on,” Anable said. “We have these policies in place, and we want to make sure they are enforced.”
Anable said his organization also wants to make sure that the LGBT community “has a place at the table” as the district continues its search for a permanent superintendent.
Dansby was appointed interim superintendent after former Supt. Melody Johnson resigned in June amid controversy, and the district continues a nation-wide search for a permanent replacement for Johnson.
Anable said the school board “creating a forum/focus group to assist the consultants they’ve hired to conduct the search for a new permanent superintendent, and we want to know if the district intends to include the LGBT community in that focus group,” Anable said. “We’ve made great progress in the schools here in Fort Worth. Now we don’t want to see them bring in someone who will ignore that progress and take the school district backwards on our issues.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 21, 2011.