"Mr. K is the best. He's such a great guy."
"This man is a great GREAT teacher even though he's transgender."
These are the words in a post on Ratemyteacher.com from June 5, 2003 and June 8, 2010 respectively, regarding Mark Krolikowski, a teacher at St. Francis Prep in Fresh Meadows.
Krolikowski, known to his students as "Mr. K," taught music, social studies, a class on social justice, and a class on sexuality at the school for over 30 years — until recently, when he was abruptly fired, allegedly for being transgender.
According to a complaint filed against the school, SFP principal Brother Leonard Conway told Krolikowski, who "consistently received the highest ratings in his evaluations," that being transgender was "worse than gay."
For more than five years prior to his termination, Krolikowski wore hoop earrings, a French manicure, and shoulder-length hair, as well as his typical suit and tie. A parent of a freshman student complained to the principal about Krolikowski's appearance in October 2011, prompting a meeting between Krolikowski, Conway, and Assistant Principal Patrick McLaughlin, in which Krolikowski informed them he was transgender.
According to the legal complaint, Conway and McLaughlin asked Krolikowski if he was going to "appear as a woman" in September 2012. This is also allegedly when Conway told Krolikowski he was "worse than gay."
Krolikowski agreed to "tone down" his appearance and removed the earrings and manicure.
That same month, Krolikowski received a perfect report following a teacher observation from his department chair, who noted his "excellent rapport" with his students and clear knowledge of the subject matter.
Krolikowski was still fired, reportedly because he continued to "go his own way."
SFP's lawyer, Philip Semprevivo, said the school "denies the allegations completely" and that Krolikowski was fired for "appropriate and non-discriminatory reasons." He would not expand on what those reasons were, or what might have changed after 32 years.
When one of his former students, Astoria resident Cristina Guarino, heard that he was fired, and allegedly due to his appearance, she started a Change.org petition demanding the school issue Krolikowski a formal apology.
Nearly 6,000 people have signed the petition.
One of the signatories related how Mr. K helped her get over her fear of heights on their music trip to London.
"He was afraid as well," wrote Sabrina Piazza. "Because of him, I was able to go on the London Eye knowing that I wasn't alone in conquering something that scares me."
Another alumna, Maria Petrizzo, worried about the current students, some of whom could very well be gay, bisexual or transgender, she said.
"What message is that sending them, to stay in the closet and be uncomfortable in their own skin?" Petrizzo asked. "As a bisexual woman I would be broken down to tears if someone spoke to me that way."
Guarino spoke to Krolikowski about the petition and said he was surprised at the number of people coming to his defense. While he couldn't discuss legal matters with her, she said he seemed overwhelmed and "still pretty upset."
"I just hope the petition at the very least shows how many people do care about him," she said.