A group of current and former Forest Lake Area High School students began rallying for the termination of current high school Spanish instructor Kelly Wing last week after several screenshots of social media posts from 2014, attributed to Wing, were posted to social media. The content of the posts, which some have deemed homophobic or slut-shaming, has prompted the use of the hashtag #FireKellyWing on Twitter as students and alumni have publicized their cause in an attempt to force the high school to act.
The two most frequently shared Facebook posts were from the fall of 2014, from a profile that appears to be Wing’s. One, which linked to an article about Catholic priests debating ministry policies regarding homosexuals, featured some graphic language describing certain sex acts before an argument that sex acts should be used for procreation – “not disordered pleasure.”
“If these (homosexual) acts sound nice to you, then you are sick and need help,” the post read in part. “If you are not homosexual, but don’t mind the lifestyle, then you are promiscuous and part of the problem.”
The other most commonly cited post targeted a pediatrician’s recommendation that teen girls be fitted with an IUD form of birth control. The post criticized this recommendation as promoting promiscuity before stating, “Parents need to actually raise their own kids and teach them modesty and not dress them as sluts.”
Another, less shared post on Wing’s Facebook page, includes the statement that “gayness is a disorder of the human mind and catering to it only serves to justify it, just as serving a drink to a hard-core alcoholic would be.”
These posts were made on a Facebook page separate from another page that also appeared to be run by Wing. The posts were from a page that appeared to be Wing’s personal Facebook page, while the other page posted more about school-related activities. However, the personal page was still able to be viewed publicly. Since the uproar about the posts began, both Facebook pages have been taken down. Wing did not respond to requests for comment.
The offending posts prompted a series of emails sent to the Times and school district officials from upset students and recent grads. According to the letter writers and those posting about Wing on social media, Wing’s behavior online sent exclusionary messages toward some FLAHS students. Some writers called his actions an infringement of his professional responsibility and counted his language as hateful, misogynistic and insensitive.
“It is absolutely essential for an educator to respect each and every one of their students,” 2015 graduate Nate Brown said in an email. “One can have an opinion based on their own personal beliefs, but all people still need to be tolerated and treated as equals in spite of these beliefs that one may hold.”
2013 FLAHS graduate Max Hall was one of the first to bring this issue to the attention of the Forest Lake Times. He saw the offending posts as they were shared on Facebook.
“It is critical to get the message out that intolerance is wrong,” he said. “We are a community that supports inclusion, and we need to make sure people that are employed to serve vulnerable teens are held accountable to their actions.”
Several letter writers contacted The Times with allegations of jokes Wing made in their classes that made them feel uncomfortable. However, those letter writers asked to remain anonymous, so The Times deemed it inappropriate to delve into specifics at this time.
During the 2008-09 school year, when students first attempted to form a Gay-Straight Alliance at the high school, Wing opposed its creation. Cina Dean, a 2011 FLHS graduate, provided The Times with an email sent from Wing’s school email address regarding the group.
“I am welcome to the general promotion of treating all people with equal respect and dignity,” the email read in part, “but I believe that GLBT (sic) behaviors are a disorder like other disorders and therefore need numerous levels of treatment since long term they are unhealthy and unnatural.”
The original attempt to form a Gay-Straight Alliance was dropped, but the effort was eventually picked up again in 2014, and the group was formed.
Current FLAHS senior Zoey Sonke had written emails to high school Principal Steve Massey and district Superintendent Linda Madsen regarding Wing and said she was surprised when 48 hours passed without a response. Eventually, however, she said she was called into a meeting with Massey and Assistant Principal Justin Sawyer.
“Sawyer and Massey explained to me that since he (Wing) did not post these as an affiliate of FLAHS, he could not be punished,” she said. “They did tell me, however, that the biggest impact on the school climate could be impacted by students. I beg to differ. In not punishing Mr. Wing, I personally feel that they are condoning and perpetuating a culture of hate speech and violence. I begged for help and received no response.”
The Times requested an interview with Massey but was told that data practices prohibited the release of information related to the posts or other incidents. Ross Bennett, district communications director, provided the following statement to The Times:
“As a public school district, we take an active interest in the conduct of our teachers, both in and out of the classroom, and we understand the concern that this situation raises with members of our school community. Earlier this week, we became aware of the comments that Mr. Wing allegedly made on Facebook, and currently the matter is under investigation by our district. At this point, under the Minnesota Data Practices Act, there’s no further information about this specific situation that we can legally provide.”
Bennett confirmed that Wing is not currently in the classroom but would not say if it was because of the social media comments or another reason.
“We make it a very major thing and a very high priority thing in our district to make sure that all of our students and all of our staff feel included and safe and secure in coming to the school,” Bennett added. “It is absolutely a priority of ours and it always has been.”
In a letter to the district signed by several of the protesting students, the undersigned asked that Wing resign or be dismissed, that teachers undergo sensitivity training, and that the district makes mandatory a workshop about what is appropriate to post on social media and how to make posts on more sensitive topics private so that students will not be able to access them.