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Attorney says Tom Klansnic was let go because of his sexuality

A popular Gresham elementary school principal, who last week helped orchestrate a high-profile anti-bullying program, is being let go because of his sexual orientation, his attorney said.

During a Gresham-Barlow School Board meeting Thursday, March 7, the district confirmed its spring 2012 vote against renewing Tom Klansnic’s contract at North Gresham Elementary School beyond this school year.

by: KOIN - Tom Klansnic

The district, however, disputes the decision is because of Klansnic’s sexuality. Because the decision is part of a personnel matter, the district said it could not comment.

A statement from Superintendent Jim Schlachter states any accusations the district had discriminated against an employee because of his or her sexual orientation are false.

The statement said the district is “committed to providing a work environment free of discrimination and has school board policy that outlines protected categories such as race, religion, sex, sexual orientation and disability.”

But many parents, teachers and supporters are still looking for the reason behind the district’s decision. Supporters attended the Thursday meeting wearing T-shirts and carrying messages to express their disappointment in the board’s decision.

“This is the man responsible for bringing some 600 students, teachers, staff and parents together to ‘Stand Up Together’ against bullying,” said Denise McCloud, a parent.

“Neglecting to renew the contract of the good man and strong leader who brought us all together in this effort is an egregious error. This is a disservice to the 569 students of North and their families... We are standing up together to say, ‘This is wrong.’ ”

In the aftermath of Thursday’s meeting, Klansnic said people from all over the city and up and down the East and West Coasts contacted him, telling him they were upset by the decision and supported him.

Klansnic’s story made national and international headlines, garnering a Change.org petition, “Do not oust Principal Tom Klansnic for Illegal Reasons.”

Klansnic has spent 10 years as a principal in the Gresham-Barlow School District and spent the previous 15 years in the Parkrose District, nine as a primary teacher and six as an elementary school principal.

During his seventh year as principal, Klansnic and his wife divorced, with him revealing to family and friends he was gay.

Klansnic and his attorney, Judy Snyder, said they are preparing to file a lawsuit against the district for discrimination and retaliation. They said Klansnic’s supervisors changed their treatment of him dramatically in the wake of the revelation.

Snyder said her client’s contract with the district has been renewed twice without performance complaints before.

“He’s been a very successful principal, and he’s continued to be a very successful principal even under close scrutiny of the last two years,” she said.

Klansnic will finish out the year as principal at North Gresham Elementary School, his attorney said.

Because the district chose not to extend Klansnic’s contract at the end of its three years, the district said Klansnic does not have the ability to appeal to the Fair Dismissal Appeals Board under Oregon law.

On Monday, a second-grade student showed up at North Gresham on Monday, March 11, wearing a T-shirt with yellow stars and red letters that read, “I support Mr. K.”

Klansnic and his attorney said kids had stopped him in the hall to express their sadness. Klansnic said he wants staff and students to focus on teaching and learning right now.

A week after the anti-bullying event, McCloud said she was stunned by the district’s decision.

“There’s extreme irony in the fact that the leader who pulled this all together is being removed from his job,” she said. “This is the opposite of the tenets we’re teaching our children. My kids absolutely adore Tom and are crushed to think he won’t be here.”

Brent Weisberg and Kohr Harland from news partner KOIN Local 6 contributed to this report.

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