A former Blacksburg High School Teacher is speaking out. He was placed on leave after discussing mental health with his students in the classroom.
“I started teaching in Montgomery County in 2008 and depression and anxiety is something I have struggled with my entire adult life,” says Bradley Kraft.
That’s why Kraft says he sought professional help this past August. Kraft says he was hospitalized for a week and began to see a counselor following his release. According to Kraft, his counselor urged him to strike a work/life balance.
So in March, he decided to cancel a research project that he had previously assigned to students. He explained his past mental health struggles to provide context for why the assignment was being canceled. Kraft felt grading the assignment would be too much given other things he and the class were working on.
“I told them at the beginning of the year I had been hospitalized I told them why. And I told them that it was very important to me to admit that I had limitations and I couldn’t pretend that I didn’t,’ says Kraft.
Kraft says the following week, he stayed home on Monday and Tuesday to care for his child who was sick. That Tuesday, he received a call from the Montgomery County Public Schools’ human resources department.
“I gave them a written statement on what I had talked about and why I had talked about it, and it was insisted at that point that they needed to speak with my counselor,” says Kraft. “It’s words that I’m not ever going to forget. She told me if your counselor has no concerns, then we have no concerns,” says Kraft.
He signed a release allowing his counselor to discuss his history with Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) administration. But Kraft says despite assurances from his counselor, he was told he would be placed on leave.
“My entire world as an adult was collapsing and I didn’t understand why,” says Kraft. He says he agreed to an extended leave because he would continue to receive compensation, as opposed to some of the other options that were presented. But Kraft says he did not want to be removed from the classroom at all.
Following his absence from the classroom, some of Kraft’s students spoke out in support of him at a school board meeting.
WFXR reached out to MCPS, but were told that it would not comment on the matter. It issued the following statement:
“MCPS does not comment on an employee’s personnel issues except to say whether or not they are employed with the district. We believe that this procedure protects our employees as they deal with concerns either personally or professionally. Mr. Kraft’s tenure with MCPS ended on June 30, 2019. We wish him success in his future endeavors. “
WFXR also reached out to the MCPS board chair, Gunin Kiran, who also said the board was unable to comment on personnel matters and e-mailed a copy of the same statement.
But Kraft says the discussion is not over yet.
“I think a lot of it comes back to the school board. I don’t feel like there was a lot of earnestness or oversight of what was going on, and to me, that’s fairly appalling,” says Kraft.
He says he intends to ask the school board to review the matter at the next school board meeting on August 6th.
Kraft says he opted not to pursue employment with MCPS once his contract expired on June 30th. Instead, he has plans to pursue a doctoral degree at Virginia Tech.
Still, he plans to continue the conversation that he began in March.
“I’m very concerned about the chilling effect my removal had on students wanting to go get help. The first adult that spoke about it openly in any context was removed for the rest of the year. And that’s a horrible message,” says Kraft.