Tag Archives: Teachers

Texas Teacher Harassed by “Christian” Student Claiming 1st Amendment Rights

28 Sep

Dakota Ary

Some of you may have heard about Dakota Ary, the Fort Worth high school student who claims he was suspended for expressing his religious beliefs. Ary claimed that his German teacher broached the topic of homosexuality and Christianity when Ary stated “I am a Christian and I believe that homosexuality is wrong.” Ary was then sent from the classroom and suspended for 3 days.

Up until today, the teacher in question had not been allowed to speak about the incident, but via the group LGBTQ S.A.V.E.S., a rather different story is being told. According to teacher Kristopher Franks, a group of four students, (of which Ary is one) has been harassing him based on their suspicion that he is gay. Franks’ version of the story follows:

On the particular day in which this incident occurred, Mr. Franks was opening class when the topic of Christianity in Germany was broached by one student, who asked what churches were there, another whether they read the Bible in English, etc. Franks asserts that the topic of homosexuality was not broached in any way, and that Ary‘s assertions to the contrary are entirely false. At this point, Ary declared, with a class audience, “Gays can’t be Christians; homosexuality is wrong,” looking directly at Mr. Franks. Franks says he understands and affirms students’ right to free speech, and that he is perfectly prepared to lead a respectful discussion on topics such as gay rights that allows for the assertion of opinions with which he disagrees. He has led such discussion in the past in his sociology classes. But in this case, hr feels the context makes it clear that this remark was made ad hominem, aimed specifically at him to devalue him and any information he might share on the topic of religion, on the basis of his perceived sexual orientation.

LGBTQ S.A.V.E.S. goes on to request assistance in making sure Franks’ side of the story is heard fully. The contact info will be at the end of this post. One can’t help but consider the case of another student who took it upon himself to spread his beliefs about homosexuality while still young, impressionable and naive. We’ve written about Ryan Miner here before and his crusade to keep a Gay Straight Alliance group from forming on his former college campus. Miner  said some rather vile things in the press and like former Senator Rick Santorum, he now finds himself with a Google problem.

When Miner has applied for jobs, he’s admittedly found a great deal of difficulty in getting hired due to his previous bigoted statements. In this day and age, let’s face it – unless you’re working at the National Organization for Marriage, you will have to work with some LGBT people – and who wants to hire someone who is a known bigot and will likely cause friction among their coworkers? Miner has recently issued an apology for the things he said, though in an effort to discover Miner’s earnestness, we requested he do more (i.e. volunteer for an LGBT charity, donate to LGBT causes, etc). Our requests for Miner to back-up his new found “respect” for the LGBT community have gone unanswered.

Please read the rest of the post from LGBTQ S.A.V.E.S and help in any way you can.

It would be very helpful, and a grace rendered to the threatened teacher, Mr. Franks, if you and other community members would write letters and/or email messages to the school board members, assistant superintendent, and Western Hills High School principal, calling on them to give a respectful, caring, and full hearing to Mr. Franks’ side of the story. Time is of the essence: He is being interrogated by an external investigations group today, though no specific allegations have yet been made against him by the ISD. I will post their names, phone numbers and email addresses below. Please keep all messages respectful and restrained, calling simply for a fair, respectful and caring hearing of Mr. Franks’ side of the story, unswayed by the public outcry generated by the slanted media coverage. Do not go into the speculations or reports of his side of the case; that is for him to present.

Walter Dansby
Interim Superintendent
Fort Worth ISD
Email: walter.dansby@fwisd.org
Phone: 817.871.2000

James Wellman
Principal
Western Hills High School
Fort Worth ISD
Email: james.wellman@fwisd.org
Phone: 817.815.6000

Ray Dickerson
President
Board of Education
Fort Worth ISD
Email: ray.Dickerson@fwisd.org

Carlos Vasquez
Board Member, District 1
Board of Education
Fort Worth ISD
Email: carlos.vasquez@fwisd.org

Norman Robbins
Board Member, District 7
Board of Education
Fort Worth ISD
Email: norman.robbins@fwisd.org

Bigoted Teacher Returns to Classroom, Would You Want Him Teaching Your Kids?

25 Aug

Bigoted Teacher Jerry Buell

There’s been a lot of discussion about a Florida teacher who took to his Facebook page to say that he “almost threw up” upon seeing a news story about marriage equality coming to New York.

He was initially suspended for the comment, but Superintendent Susan Moxley reinstated him today.

In school districts across the country, teachers are not permitted to use social media inappropriately, as anything that might be said will undoubtedly reflect upon the school district. In fact, there are stories all over about teachers losing their jobs over Facebook and Twitter comments they’ve made. What’s different about Buell’s story however, is there is a small army of very vocal, very homophobic people who are jumping to his defense claiming the school infringed upon Buell’s “First Amendment rights.”

Strangely enough, these defenders of free speech were not there to stand up for Massachusetts teacher, Dr. June Talvitie-Siple when she took to her Facebook page to say that the residents of the town she taught in were “arrogant and snobby.” She lost her job.

Or another Massachusetts teacher, Jon O’Keefe – who was fired for simply accepting students as “friends” on Facebook.

Or Iowa Catholic school teacher, Abby Nurre who lost her job over saying she didn’t believe in God on Facebook.

Ashley Payne was fired for having this photo on her Facebook page

And then there was the Georgia Public School teacher, Ashley Payne who, after a European vacation including some drinking, was fired for having a picture of herself on Facebook holding a glass of wine.

It’s really troublesome to fight for free speech for some and not all.

Queerty happened to archive a website they found regarding the experience of a gay student in Jerry Buell’s classroom. Unfortunately, the blogger has pulled the post from his site, but this account of a gay student’s experience in his classroom is certainly jarring. The original post appeared on AntiGayBigotryScaresMe.blogspot.com

The clearest and most specific example I can provide of Jerry Buell’s anti-gay remarks in the classroom happened my 11th grade year (2001-2002) during his American History course. Before explaining this occurrence, I would like to first comment on Mr. Buell’s classroom. Among several things hung around the room, Bible verses were spread across the walls, accented by a picture of Jesus Christ above the clock. While there may have been some additional quotes from other scholars and philosophers, the signs were predominantly Christian. And while, yes, Buell’s number one rule was/is Respect, I personally fail to find how those signs are equally respectful to other religions in a public school classroom or how his statement respects human life.

… a student provocatively asked Mr. Buell what he thoughts about gays in the military. I tensed, knowing full well the point of view to follow in Mr. Buell’s response.

I looked up when he said he supported gays in the military, stunned by the answer. He immediately followed that comment with the statement that we should then put them on the front lines, and pull back. Disgusted at the thought of violence and murder of humans being vocally supported, I shut my book and walked out of class, the only time I would ever do this during my educational career.

I returned at the closing bell to raise the issue with Mr. Buell. He noted my actions could be grounds for discipline, to which I countered by noting that his comments, if reported, would be the same. I also pointed out that the man in the picture hanging above the clock never advocated murdering another human being.

I didn’t report him then, and am sharing this story now to simply provide an example of Buell’s personal opinions infiltrating his classroom and teaching. His statements in recent media stories that he values students equally and loves his gay students I personally believe are inaccurate given my experiences as a student and alumni of his classrooms.

It should also be noted that Buell’s classroom syllabus states:

 “I teach God’s truth, I make very few compromises. If you believe you may have a problem with that, get your schedule changed, ’cause I ain’t changing!”

If teachers can get fired for holding a glass of wine in a Facbook picture, calling the parents of their students “snobby,” saying they don’t believe in God or even adding students as “friends,” then how is a man who refuses to separate church and state and wish death upon his LGBT students – still teaching.

Wouldn’t it be great if GLSEN, The Trevor Project, HRC and the It Gets Better Project and all the other organizations fighting for our rights made a specific campaign to educate and empower the parents and students of this school?

I believe in the freedom of speech for all, however I also believe that those who use it to hate and oppress others should be held responsible for the things they say. And if the things they say are harmful to the people they are charged with educating in a public school, they should not be entitled to that job.

An Awkward Lunch With Mrs. Mesheau: How Teachers Change the World

18 Mar

Mrs. Mesheau was the toughest teacher in the Grace Farrar Cole School in Norwell, MA. You wandered from 1st to 2nd to 3rd grade hearing stories of how horrible it would be if you wound up with Mrs. Mesheau when you got into 6th grade. Stories of strict rules, public humiliation and the “Mesheau Glare” haunted every 5th grader in the summer before that first day of 6th grade.

She was an older troll-like woman who smelled of stale cigarettes and regret. She required every student have an American Heritage Dictionary in their desk at all times with their last name emblazoned in black sharpie across the side of the book. She’d toss out random words and point at you. If you didn’t know the definition, you were required to stand up and recite the definition to the class – branding you an “idiot” for the rest of the day.

6th grade was not unlike every other grade for me – I was fairly quiet and reserved because every time I opened my mouth, someone would make fun of me. I was picked on mercilessly, thrown into thorny bushes after school and spent my recesses playing “spank the babies” with the girls (it was basically “tag” but if you got caught, you had to be spanked by the person who tagged you – wow. yeah, things were different then).

Then one day in the Spring, I was in line at the cafeteria spending my 25 cents on the little carton of milk when I smelled her behind me. Her chubby nicotined fingers wrapped around my tiny arm and she said “come with me, we’re eating in the classroom.” I immediately panicked and wondered what I’d done wrong. Sweating, I followed her.

We sat down and she said to me, “Jamie, I notice you’re not having a very good time in school. I see what the other kids do to you, how they treat you.” I nodded my head as I ripped the cellophane off the plastic half-sandwich container which concealed my peanut butter and fluff. She went on, “Don’t listen to them…they don’t really matter.” I sat in silence, still somewhat frightened that I was somehow in trouble and that I’d become another story passed-down to the 1st graders to terrify them. “I want you to know that you should be exactly who you are and be the great person I know you’re going to be.” I sat in silence.

Of course these aren’t direct quotes as I wasn’t carrying a tape recorder and my memory of 6th grade has grown somewhat misty at this point, but I do remember her telling me I was going to be a great person someday and specifically that I should be exactly who I am. I also distinctly remember her telling me to not tell anyone about our meeting because she had an image to uphold, and with a wink, she lit her cigarette and told me to go back to the cafeteria.

Teachers play such an enormous part in our young lives and tonight, when I googled Carol Mesheau, I made the sad discovery that she’d passed a few years ago at the age of 77. It makes me sad that I was never able to tell her what a difference she made in my life, but somehow, somewhere – I can’t help but imagine that she knew. I couldn’t have been the only kid she took off her mask for.

I was thinking about Mrs. Mesheau today when I received an email about the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network’s (GLSEN) Educator of the Year award. While the form they ask you to fill out asks you to talk about specific work your nominee has done for the LGBT students and such, I think the most important thing any teacher can do for a student is to let them know that they should be proud of exactly who they are.

So thank you Mrs. Mesheau, and all you educators out there who are making differences in the lives of your students, one awkward lunch at a time.

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