A former Blacksburg High School history teacher says comments he made in his classroom about his mental health is the reason he was placed on paid leave in March.
Bradley Kraft, who was Montgomery County’s 2013 Teacher of the Year, garnered a wave of community support following his departure from the classroom. Numerous parents and students questioned whether his sudden absence was tied to comments he made about his mental health and expressed concerns about the entire episode sending the wrong message about the topic.
After remaining silent about his case over the past few months, Kraft, 33, went public Monday in a Twitter thread that sharply criticized Montgomery County Public Schools.
“So I’ve waited several months to be able to talk about my situation and now that I’m no longer an employee of MCPS, I’d like to first sarcastically applaud the many overtures to mental health awareness that were sent out across the division in May,” Kraft wrote in one tweet. “It’s always nice to see a school division make the decision to publicly support advocating for mental health while sidestepping those positions outside of public view.
“From my vantage in March, it was like getting to watch sausage being made.”
Kraft, who is slated to begin doctoral studies at Virginia Tech, told The Roanoke Times in an interview Monday that he waited to issue comments on his situation out of caution. He said he feared speaking up before the June 30 ending of his MCPS contract would cause a breach that could have cost him his teaching license.
“I’m not really looking for anything other than putting the facts in the public sphere,” he said.
Kraft said he first left the classroom on March 15 to stay at home with his son, who he said had the flu.
Kraft said an MCPS administrator contacted him on March 19 to tell him that a parent had expressed concerns about comments he made to his students about his mental health.
Kraft said he has long battled depression and had been suicidal in the past. He said his struggles came to a head in August of last year, when he decided to check himself in to St. Albans near Radford.
Kraft said he stayed at St. Albans for five days. He said his doctors then cleared him to return to work and that Blacksburg High administration provided him its full support.
Kraft said he taught virtually from home for a week before returning to the classroom.
Kraft said he briefly opened up to his classes about his struggles with mental health when he told them in March he was canceling a research project he had previously assigned.
“I was cutting back completely self-inflicted voluntary assignments,” he said, adding that the project in question was not, at all, mandated by the school district.
Kraft said he was asked during his March 19 conversation with the administration if MCPS central office could contact his mental health counselor. He said he obliged to show that he had long been cleared to be in the classroom.
“If that’s the easiest way to address this is to let you talk to my counselor, then OK,” he said.
Kraft provided The Roanoke Times a copy of the release form for which he allowed the school system to talk to his counselor.
Kraft said he learned MCPS had a favorable conversation with his counselor.
Kraft, however, said central office on March 20 appeared to redirect its case with him by asking about his decision to cancel the research project. He said he was then told he wouldn’t be allowed to return to the classroom for the remainder of the semester.
“I have two essential questions regarding my removal: (1) If the disposition of my situation had NOTHING to do with my mental health, why did MCPS insist on March 19 that I sign a waiver to allow them to speak to my counselor as a condition of being able to stay in the classroom?” Kraft wrote in one of his tweets. “I was told, ‘If your counselor has no concerns, we have no concerns.’ ”
Kraft said he was offered the chance to apply for time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act.
“Because you know, I was ‘too sick’ to do my job,” he tweeted. “No thank you. There’s no medical basis for that. That’s not happening.”
Kraft said he was then offered modified extended leave. He said his lawyer told him the option would allow him to avoid having to explain a conspicuously long period of administrative leave to a future employer.
Kraft described modified extended leave as the “best option I had in a sea of bad options.”
Kraft said he was then offered a return to the classroom during a meeting with central office in early May.
Kraft said he was told his definitive status had never been determined and that the decision to go on leave was his choice.
“I had chosen to be on leave … Wow,” he tweeted. “What a political maneuver! They offered me a ‘stick’ and a ‘stick’ painted to look like a carrot and now were going to leverage it all to the public to come out smelling like roses.”
Kraft said he declined the offer due to losing trust in the school district’s decision-making and uncertainty about whether it was in his best interest to return to the classroom.
Kraft said he doesn’t have plans to pursue a lawsuit against MCPS at this time.
“I’ve been exploring my legal options and seeking counsel on how or if to proceed with a civil action,” he wrote in a text message. “At this point, I’m separating how and when or even if I deal with that.
“I’m interested right now in advocating for real change within MCPS, and I don’t want a pending lawsuit to give the excuse that I’m just doing this to make money.”
Superintendent Mark Miear declined a request for comment on the Kraft matter this week. School board Chairwoman Gunin Kiran also didn’t return a request for comment.
“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,” MCPS spokeswoman Brenda Drake wrote in an email. “Mr. Kraft’s tenure with MCPS ended on June 30, 2019. We wish him success in his future endeavors.”
A few other school board members couldn’t be reached this week.
Kraft didn’t spare the school board of criticism.
Kraft said the board has the ultimate say on employment matters and that he questions whether the elected body had ever initiated its own internal review of his case.
“If I’m going to hold people responsible, I’m going to hold the school board responsible,” he said. “It seems to me they just took a hands-off approach to this.”
Kraft wrote in his tweets that he plans to speak at the next school board meeting and that he will “gladly” endorse any qualified candidate seeking to unseat a board he described as having “lost control of the decision-making apparatus that runs MCPS.”