Note: All references to this situation have used male pronouns, including statements by the lawyer, so I shall continue the practice.
Mark Krolikowski, 59, has been known by his students as Mr. K. From all indications Krolikowski was a beloved teacher at ST. Francis Preparatory School in Fresh Meadows, Queens. He had taught there for 32 years. He even co-directed the school's chamber orchestra for a 2008 performance for Pope Benedict XVI.
But about five years ago Mr. K. began feminizing his appearance and recently he came out as transgender. In May of 2011 the parent of a freshman complained about Krolikowski's appearance to the principal at the time, Leonard Conway. Krolikowsky had grown his hair out and began painting his nails and wearing earrings along with his usual suits and ties. Conway notified Mr. K. that he would "no longer be welcome at public events if he arrived in women's garb."
Brother Conway also told Krolikowski he was worse than gay.
So Krolikowski toned down his appearance. He received excellent evaluations for the 2011-12 school year. But in June he was told that he was being insubordinate and he was terminated in August.
After several months of attempting to settle the matter out of court, Krolikowski is now suing for unspecified damages for emotional distress and economic loss. Krolikowski's attorney, Andrew Kimler, said his client should be protected by city and state laws, even though he worked at a private religious school.
We’ve been trying to resolve this case out of court for months, but they refused to do so. They’ve forced us to file.
-- Krolikowski, who once taught a class called "Human Sexuality and Love" at the school
The school's attorney, Phil Sempervivo, said Krolikowski was fired for "nondiscriminatory reasons."
In a petition at Change.org, current and former students of ST. Francis Prep are calling for the school to formally apologize to Mr. Krolikowski.
"Mr. K," as he was affectionately known by most of his students, had worked for SFP for over 30 years and was always himself: funny, eccentric, loving, and accepting. Ask anyone who had him and they will rave about his stellar teaching and friendly demeanor. In a school in which many of the faculty can often be bossy and tyrannical, Mr. K created a warm and welcoming environment for all his students and their peers.
However, his long track record of spectacular teaching seemed to carry no weight when a lone parent complained about his "feminine" appearance back in 2011. Mr. K, for as long as we have known him, has always donned several gold hoop earrings, dyed hair, fashionable (but appropriate and professional) clothing, and well-manicured nails. This was never an issue amongst his students or their parents until that one student's mother complained to the school.
But as we know, it is an extreme issue with Pope Benny.
This is a disgusting display of discrimination and must be acted against and apologized for. While we do not expect Mr. K to return to Prep, we do expect the school to apologize for its behavior and its ultimate decision to expel such a valued member from their staff. In a school that preaches love, respect, and acceptance, we are appalled to see that their lessons come with hateful fine print.
Some commentary by current and former students:
We the students/alumni/ and staff of Prep are supposed to be good "Christians" and that means not only going the extra step to be kind to others, but also that we must be accepting and loving to EVERYONE. Mr. K always spoke out about public injustices, both domestic and international, and by doing so proved to be one of the MOST "Christian" persons I've ever met. You cannot just fire someone because they "don't reflect the values you wish to instill," when clearly they do. The act of firing Mr.K has proved to me that the establishment is quite plainly ignorant, insensitive, and most importantly hypocritical. I was once a proud Terrier, but now i can honestly say I'm ashamed.
Mr. K is an icon of individuality and good spirit at prep, and he will not be ousted without an uproar.
Mr. K was one of the most inspirational and amazing people that I have ever met in Prep. He helped me get over my fear of heights (he was afraid as well) on our music trip to London, and because of him, I was able to go on the London Eye knowing that I wasn't alone in conquering something that scares the living daylights out of me. He's an amazing man and this is absolutely horrible! Anyone who treats such a good person with such disrespect should feel ashamed.
Mr. K was one of the best teachers at SFP and didn't deserve to be discharged in such a way for being himself. At a school that promotes equality, they sure as hell are going against the golden rule (Which several religion teachers always felt the need to stress). He was a hardworking and respectable man and many students looked to him for good advice. Prep what are you doing?
Mr K served not only as an instructor, mentor, and ancor [sic] for myself and thousands of other students throughout his years as a teacher, but was also an example of humility and respect for all, who did his job professionally, and without personal bias in his work. His wardrobe should not trump his 32 years of countless inspiration and leadership of young students that have gone on to contribute to society as better people because of his influence.