Teachers, families heartbroken over the early departure of popular principal Tom Klansnic

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK  - North Gresham Elementary School Principal Tom Klansnic, center in blue shirt, joins with teacher and parents telling students to stand up together as buses leave the school. Wednesday was Klansnics last day at the school.

Shock, sadness and anger swept over North Gresham Elementary School on Wednesday, April 24, as students, teachers and parents learned it was Principal Tom Klansnic’s last day.

As they were released, students filed into the front of the school with hot pink signs reading “I (heart) Mr. K.”

Klansnic, who announced his sudden departure at the end of an afternoon assembly, circulated among tearful staff members and families, saying goodbye to the school he had called home for the past decade.

“It’s like the loss of a family member,” said Capri Parker, a parent and president of the North Gresham Parent Teacher Association. “It felt like a funeral all day. We were expecting it at the end of the year, but not today.”

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK  - North Gresham Elementary School Principal Tom Klansnic gets a tearful goodbye hug from fourth grade student Seryna Graham at the close of school on Wednesday.

The Gresham-Barlow School District announced Wednesday a settlement with Klansnic, who accused the district of dismissing him because of his sexual orientation.

The agreement followed a mediation session between the principal and district representatives on Monday and included a provision that Klansnic would leave his position immediately. Full terms of the agreement were not made public.

In March, Klansnic’s attorney went public with the principal’s claim that the school district had declined to renew his contract for next year because he is gay.

The district denied it had discriminated against Klansnic because of his sexual orientation, but his story made international headlines and prompted protests from many parents and students.

On Wednesday, Gresham-Barlow Superintendent Jim Schlachter reiterated that the district “is fully aligned with its nondiscrimination policies.”

Because state law prevents the district from disclosing information in personnel files, the district is unable to disclose to the community why Klansnic’s contract was not extended.

Assembly announcement

Teachers learned of Klansnic’s departure Wednesday morning, and students learned during a weekly assembly that was moved from the morning to afternoon.

While the students didn’t hear the news until the end of the assembly, their teachers organized special performances in Klansnic’s honor, with fourth- and fifth-graders singing “Friends Are Like Diamonds” and “See Me Beautiful.”

“When my mom was still alive, she told me, ‘Tommy, the good Lord doesn’t give you a cross to bear that you can’t handle,’” Klansnic said Thursday. “I looked up during the assembly and said, ‘Help me with this one.’”

At the assembly, Klansnic thanked the students and told them there was something beautiful in each of them. He reminded them that a new principal was scheduled to arrive during the next school year and said an interim principal was coming sooner than anticipated to finish out this school year.

Students gasped, many of them breaking into tears.

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK  - A North Gresham Elementary School student holds up a  I Love Mr. K sign at the end of the school day.

“There was just a shock in the room,” said Denise McCloud, a parent and advocate for Klansnic who helped garner 1,000 signatures on a petition that was delivered to the Gresham-Barlow School District last week. “So many little faces started crying. He made it about the kids the whole way through.”

Two Parent Teacher Club members distributed the hot pink signs for students to carry out of the school. Students chanted “Mr. K!” repeatedly and left on school buses still waving their signs for Klansnic.

“I’m at a loss for words,” McCloud said. “My heart hurts for all these kids.”

Saying goodbye

Students took home pink letters from the Gresham-Barlow School District to their parents. The letter stated, “Both Mr. Klansnic and the district desire that the focus continue to be on teaching and learning, and ensuring that staff and students have a positive conclusion to the year.”

The letter noted an interim principal would be named in the near future and thanked Klansnic for his many years of service.

But the letter was cold comfort for many families.

Judie Kissinger and Mamie Westphal, two grandmothers, said they were filled with questions and thought it was wrong Klansnic was being let go.

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK  - Grandmothers Mamie Westphal and Judie Kissinger said they were in shock learning Tom Klansnics last day at North Gresham Elementary School was Wednesday. Both said their grandchildren adored Klansnic.

“I would tell Logan (her kindergarten grandson), ‘If you’re not good, you’re going to have to go to Mr. K’s office,’” Kissinger said. “He’d smile and say, ‘That’s OK!’”

Sue Anderson, the mother of a kindergarten boy, said students and parents were filled with questions, and losing their principal was devastating.

“How do I explain it to him?” Anderson said. “They don’t handle separation well, especially at the kindergarten age. It’s like a divorce. They’re going to ask, ‘Are you going to leave now? Is my teacher going to leave?’ They’re going to ask all sorts of questions.”

The district had planned to hold a press conference Wednesday afternoon but canceled it pending the approval of a final statement that was released shortly after 5 p.m.

The statement said Klansnic was going on paid leave for the rest of the school year. It said the agreement would show the dispute was resolved “without an admission or finding of liability or wrongdoing on the part of the school district.”

Klansnic declined to comment on the terms of the agreement but said he was moved by the display of support Wednesday.

“In the 25 years of my career, I have never felt like I did yesterday,” Klansnic said Thursday. “I was overwhelmed with the love, caring and support from families and community members. It just saddens me to end my career like this.”

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK  - North Gresham Elementary School students leave the school on Wednesday carrying I Love Mr. K signs at the end of the school day. The signs were produced and distributed by school parents.

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