Students speak out against teacher’s Facebook remarks

Community Editor

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.”

Wing
Wing

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.

  • Cina Dean

    The “lesbian student” mentioned in this article is me, 2011 graduate Cina Dean. The GSA was formed in the 2009-2010 school year, and was wildly successful. Our meetings were attended by 30-60 students each week. The administration, specifically Dr. Massey, told us that we could not be an officially recognized school organization. Just because we were not recognized does not mean that we did not exist. We provided the most visible safe space to LGBTQ students in the entire Forest Lake area, and we met resistance at every turn. We did not stop. My co-founder, Samuel Doten, graduated in 2012 and after that, the GSA experienced a lapse in leadership before it was taken up and revived. Now an officially recognized group, it is in the hands of beautiful young leaders and supportive, courageous staff members.

    The email that is quoted was received by me in November of 2010. Kelly Wing carbon copied a member of the school board when he told me that I had a “disorder.” In that email, he crossed the line between a private citizen with an opinion, and a teacher wielding his authority to try and bring down a student organization. After that email, he spoke with me in person in his FLHS classroom and further explained that a GSA was similar in moral integrity to a group of Neo-Nazis or a group endorsing underage drinking. No longer is he a private citizen with an opinion. Kelly Wing is an educator in a position of authority who actively pushed his opinions of morality on me and other students. The school absolutely does have a responsibility to address his behavior.

    • Cina Dean

      I appreciate Jason adding my name to the article.

  • J-dawg

    Making public posts on social media that compromise a public employee’s work environment is not covered by “free speech.” Someone who is supposed to be an authority figure and someone students can trust, making public statements that gay students have a disorder and need to be “treated,” is unacceptable, as is calling students who use birth control or dress contrary to one’s personal standards “sluts.”

  • Sarah Neuman

    He’s made posts directed at students on social media, taken a picture of students in the hallway and posted it on social media with a degrading comment (for which he was suspended for last year), had bullied students in class telling them to “go back to Mexico” or calling one kid “the weird emo kid in the back”. Forest Lake preaches so much against their students not bullying each other, maybe they should enforce it with Mr. Wing. His actions both on social media and in school have deemed his classroom as a hostile environment. According to him girls who are on birth control are sluts, but some use it so their period pains aren’t so bad that they’re puking.
    A teacher needs to respect and accept all kinds of people that are going to walk through that school, because if the teacher, an adult, doesn’t then why should the students do so? Teachers are not only teaching their subject, they are mentors and role models teaching students how to act.
    This issue is hardly about his social media posts, it’s about how he treats students in the classroom/in the school.

  • Jody

    Wow…..Sadly he will be protected by his union and this school district is great at sweeping things under the rug.

  • Samuel Jacob Doten

    Kelly Wing was my Spanish teacher in 10th grade. He wrote this in an email to an alum expressing dismay over his response to Cina & I starting a GSA in 2010:

    “Imagine that a group of alcoholic students or skinhead students wanted to form a group at a school to defend and promote its beliefs and actions. Common sense would tell a person, “No, that’s not right.” While there are degrees to this, one’s personal behaviors do and can hurt others. “Constructively hurting other people” –which are your words- includes prompting unnatural behaviors like alcoholism, racism, and unnatural sexual behaviors.”