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Trans teacher to MPS days before suicide: “I’m being subtly bullied and it’s taking a toll on my health”

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MILWAUKEE — It was called "a tragic suicide of one of Milwaukee's brightest teachers." The FOX6 Investigators have obtained the emails the teacher sent to school leaders asking for help.

Karis Ross was a transgender special education teacher at the Milwaukee German Immersion School. According to her suicide note, she killed herself after years of being bullied by co-workers.

Just days before her death she wrote to the school principal, "I feel that I am being subtly bullied and it's taking a toll on my health."

Instead of directly responding to the faculty member, the principal sent the email to other leaders within the administration, seeking "advice in [sic] how to best address this matter."

For a year, MPS refused to release the emails, saying the 2014 suicide was still under investigation.  MPS would not comment on the outcome of that investigation, but it did finally release the emails, which show what school leaders knew about her struggle as a transgender special education teacher.

FOX6 shared those emails with her family.

Jill Grienke

Jill Greinke

"All of it was very difficult to read," said Ross' mother, Jill Greinke. "I only read them once because I couldn't take reading them more than that. Things that were, you know, just blatantly obvious and were ignored."

The emails document that three years after Ross transitioned from male to female, the school principal continued to refer to her as a man. Ross wrote, "I  know you meant no offense by such a slip-up. Old habits die hard. However, people look to you as a model of behavior."

That same year, she wrote to the principal about what she called "ongoing drama" in the special education classroom, rumors about her being spread by other teachers, and continued problems with classroom aides.

"Reading them was very hard because it is everything Karis talked about," Greinke said.

And then, the month she died, she sent numerous emails complaining about  "multiple panic attacks, extreme fatigue, and a complete loss of appetite."  Ross asked to meet with the principal to discuss "practical solutions to some of the difficulties" she was having with classroom aides.

When he never replied, she wrote again, saying "I don't feel I have your support in this matter."

Trans 9

Karis Ross was a special education teacher.

"She tried to get the principal to mediate, which in my opinion would have been his job," Greinke said.

Just days before she killed herself, she wrote to the school principal, "I feel that I am being subtly bullied by all CHAs and by the lack of support from administration and it's taking a toll on my health."

She never heard back.  Instead, the principal forwarded her email to labor relations, but by then it was too late.

In her suicide note she wrote, "I endured 10 years of bullying from several of my co-workers. After a lifetime of abuse from other people, I simply couldn't stand another day of it."

"The kind of bullying that went on with my daughter  was subtle," Greinke said. "It wasn't that she was kicked or hit or pushed. She was ignored."

Karis Ross

That kind of emotional abuse, Greinke said, can take a toll.

In the days following Ross' suicide, the school principal emailed with other district administrators about possibly disciplining the teacher for failing to show up to class without notice.

"She wasn't in school for two days before we found her," Greinke said. "So that was hard to see."
German Immersion School

German Immersion School

MPS would not talk to FOX6 on camera about how it dealt with this situation. The German Immersion Foundation wrote an email to FOX6 saying "The GIF is not involved in the daily operations of the Milwaukee German Immersion School, and its members have no knowledge of personnel matters related to the school.  Thus, we have no comment."

It's that kind of radio silence on the issue,  Greinke says, that is part of the problem.

"There has to be change," she said. "Bullying is not always physical. My daughter felt she wasn't being heard because she was different and she was transgender."

Madeline Dietrich, one of Karis' friends, wrote an open letter to MPS after Karis' death, which garnered national attention.

After we showed her the emails, she said she stands by what she wrote.

"MPS failed to acknowledge the obstacles Karis faces as a woman, as a trans person," Dietrich said, "This is really the takeaway I guess for other school districts -- is how serious this is and how seriously they need to take it."

Trans 13

Dr. Cary Costello, a sociology professor at UW-Milwaukee, says businesses can help transgender people on the job by adding gender identity and expression to nondiscrimination policies. More importantly, the policies should be enforced.

Dr. Cary Costello, a sociology professor at UW-Milwaukee, says it's important that employers, especially school districts, be aware of what their employees are up against when they transition at work.

"We have to be aware of the levels of discrimination and harassment, that  especially trans women face in this society -- and be good allies for them," he said.

Denise Callaway, executive director of communications & outreach for Milwaukee Public Schools sent FOX6 the following statement:

"Ms. Ross was a well-respected member of the Milwaukee German Immersion School family for many years. The absence of her presence is still felt today.

As the emails you received show, it was not evident until Ms. Ross’ November 26, 2014 email that she felt she was being bullied. That email was sent the afternoon before the two-day Thanksgiving holiday weekend. The principal responded immediately when he saw the email, reaching out during the holiday weekend to seek support for Ms. Ross and scheduling an appointment to talk to her."

But the emails FOX6 obtained show that the principal did not respond immediately to Ross. She emailed on Nov. 26, 2014, saying she felt she was being subtly bullied. On Nov. 28, 2014, the principal emailed another administrator asking for advice on how to best address the issue. There are no emails from the principal to Ross after that date.

MPS' Administrative Policy includes equal protection for staff regardless of gender.

"This policy was originally housed in the section of our policies related to students, even though it applied to students and staff. In 2015, we moved it to the section of policies that specifically applies to staff," Callaway said.

It's unclear whether the co-workers Ross mentioned in her suicide note were ever disciplined. MPS would not provide specific details of its investigation.

53 comments

  • Kira

    Just because your paranoid doesn’t mean someone’s not out to get you.. and the pronoun your looking for is “she”.

  • Angela

    Realistically, because she mentioned her “health”, there is no way that the administrator could respond to her without facing some potential legal liability. An employer cannot advise or discuss her health. In fact, from the wording, it sounds like a setup for a disability or hostile workplace claim. Any responsible employer would have reached out to a peer with equal authority over that emploee, or to a lawyer, for assistance in how to respond. The idea that he could have done more can only be coming from people who have never been on thr employer side of such an issue.

    • chloealexa

      Angela, you cannot be much more cruel as by calling HER a man, as it shows your true self, a BIGOT. read my response.

      • Angela

        ChloeAlexa…learn to read. I never used a masculine word to identify her. Thr masculine term referred to her male administrator. Stop looking for drama where it doesn’t exist.

    • chloealexa

      For the teachers and administrators of the school please read this and sleep on it for future reference.
      Robert Lofgren
      If you refuse to listen to the Voice of the Transgender community, and instead choose to Speak out of Disdain and Ignorance, be assured that what you are saying is Killing Transgender people. To you, the issue may seem clear-cut….but it dosn’t work in real Lives.
      You are Complicit in their Deaths.
      This applies to a number of you at the school, you know who you are.

  • Shawn

    I read through this article twice and found no evidence of bullying. Repeatedly, thr article references how the deceased “felt” that she was being bullied. However, it is possible for a person to feel bullied and for thr facts to suggest otherwise. Frankly, this is a huge allegation to make against individuals who cannot defend themselves due to confidentiality. Personally, I will withold opinion regarding the truth of the allegations until something other than third party, unsubstantiated statements are shared. To do otherwise is an actual form of gossip and bullying.

  • Chrisco

    Say this did happen. If it did happen I am noway condoning the actions. What does she want MPS to do? Suspend every teacher in that school? Dock their pay? Single out the teachers in question? That would make her a target for the rest of teachers. The only real solution I see is her transferring to another school for a fresh start or finding a new district to work for.

  • uknownothingatall

    We tend to cover up the lack of help and family support for people with mental illness. This is another example of blaming society instead of the mental illness he had.

  • Lizzie

    Unlike you, I knew Karis personally. She was probably the most well adjusted trans woman I’ve ever met. Friendly, kind, and beautiful inside and out. I should know about these things as I am also trans. So please, take back your ignorant comment and get a brain.

    • Opinion8d

      Sorry for your loss. Obviously he wasn’t well adjusted. Many people commit suicide who appear to be ‘happy’, ‘well adjusted’, or whatever and it comes as a shock to many afterwards. The demons inside one’s head are not ‘seen’ by others and led to this result. Any suicide is tragic. Blaming others because he ‘felt subtly bullied’ sounds overly sensitive -he should have been seeking professional help. Many employers have an assistance help line. Btw – did he have the surgery or just hormone treatment?

    • Opinion8d

      @Lizzie – and what’s your point with your other comment that someone must have ‘voted for Cruz’. Why does the LBGT crowd think that Cruz, or republican’s or Trump equate to ‘Hate’ -if that is your point. Most people don’t HATE the LBGT crowd -they simply disagree with it and don’t condone or approve of the behavior. But they don’t jump in your face and scream vulgarities at you or assault you…..be who you want to be, just don’t expect others to support it or welcome you with open arms.

  • Karrie

    How exactly is this eligible for wrongful death. No one knew she was suicidal. She discussed health issues, which the administrator cannot address. By law he couldn’t even suggest she see a doctor since that’s medical advice. He probably didn’t know what to do. From what her mom said it’s obvious she talked to her family about her situation. The mom was in a better position to suggest she get help. Why didn’t that happen?

    • OMK

      What law prevents someone giving such broad and general advice as “go see a doctor”. “Drink plenty of fluids” illegal then aswell?
      I understand that dodgy medical advice can be quite harmful, but so can forcing people to stand idly by.

  • Kathy Brost

    How can we really expect our children and young adults to lead by example when the leaders of this country can’t even do it. This is an un-necessary tragedy and the only thing we can do now is hopefully learn from the loss. It doesn’t matter if you agree or disagree with someone’s choices In life because at the essence we are all just human beings trying to make it in a crazy world. I don’t know when/if we will ever accept each other in that respect but wouldn’t it be a beautiful world if we did?

  • idiots

    Sounds to me like there was a lack of happiness before the change and after the change. Maybe the issue was mental and not physical. But of course we always need to blame others for our own lack of happiness.

  • Opinion8d

    The story did go national and it is tragic when someone takes their own life. However, there is no proof of bullying! The ‘bullying’ was his perception and he described it as ‘subtle’ bullying. It’s a way to cover the mental illness that led to his death.

    • Buk Man

      agreed. unfortunately. . . . if you are transgendered now (because it is such a hot topic) all you have to do is make a claim. . . any claim at all and everyone MUST believe it otherwise be labeled as transphobic

  • hortisculpturega

    When you intentionally call somebody by a name or a noun that they do not identify with and have asked you not to, that is bullying. If you can not see that, think about if people did that to you. Intentionally used pronouns for you that you do not want them to, and called you by a name you don’t like.

    If your only response is, but than I would be giving in to something I disagree with, than that is not minding your own business. That is projecting your beliefs on somebody that respectfully told you how they want a to be identifying and saying to them your beliefs trump theirs.

  • Bob

    Also don’t forget, to avoid being robbed don’t own anything at all. To avoid being murdered be dead already. She should have had to lose her job because of transitioning.

  • Opinion8d

    @hortisculpturega – Going by the article, it did not seem like the principal referring to him as a man was a major issue. He referred to it as a ‘slip up’ and ‘old habits’…..since he identified as a man when he started and then ‘changed’ later on, maybe it was a slip-up. Since I don’t have the context, it’s hard to say -did he use his old name (if he changed that too) instead of the ‘new’ name?? Like I said, his own admission was that it was subtle bullying. The fact is, this is behavior is a result of mental illness and should be treated as such. Mentally ill people may have a skewed perception of reality.

  • Opinion8d

    Welcome to the club of deleted comments……I read the letter too and those details really stood out. I find it interesting that everyone has to ‘accept’ and deal with someone changing from ‘X’ to ‘Y’ and that, while it’s ‘so courageous’ of the one ‘changing’, that it’s just expected that everyone else will embrace and treat it like no big deal. Really??? I knew you as light footed John and now your coming in with a dress on and makeup and you want me to call you Jane and that somehow doesn’t impact me??? What if one of the aides committed suicide because they were forced to work in that environment…would there be sympathy for that person??

  • Opinion8d

    Good things emotion didn’t play a part in your argument!!! (sarcasm) Go find your safe space

  • Valentino

    There are bullies at every school. It is unfortunate, but it is true. It has nothing to do with MGIS. You idiot commenters and the liberal media are going to ruin a great school if you keep up with the crap.

  • JP79

    Great people teaching our kids…… How are children supposed to go to the Teachers and Administration for help if they can not help each other….. Milwaukee NOT a place to raise a child…. Sad.

  • Kyle Thompson

    The real tragedy is that this man was so mentally ill he thought he was a woman, yet was still allowed to interact with our children in any sort of authority postion! What is America coming to…we need to come to Jesus, and fast.

    • Opinion8d

      Couldn’t agree more!!!!…..until my comments get deleted for not speaking ‘appropriately’…..

    • Defend All

      The God I know teaches we are all sensitive souls regardless of the physical vessel that holds that soul.

  • How many times are her fellow racist MPS teachers going to censor the truth?

    This was about her being white and the aides being Black and less educated. Nothing more. She felt entitled to the typical white privilege protection of white women. She didn’t understand thr culture of her aides and misinterpreted it as bullying. She received exactly the same treatment that many people in positions of authority receive from the people they manage. She just chose to misinterpret it as bullying.

    • Defend All

      This has nothing to do with race so stop trying to spin this. All the teachers, aides and office staff at MGIS are culpable because they all were part of this. Dr. Brugger wasn’t equipped to handle this and he wasn’t supported by MPS leadership and Karis wasn’t supported by her union. I know these things because I know people there.

      • Here we go again. progressive white person believes they can't be racist.

        Go read the letter. Race and academic status are CLEARLY identified as major factors. You just don’t want to appear racist, so you’re denying it. Look, just because you vote Democrat and are best friends with the union doesn’t mean you get a “Get Out of Racism Accusations Free” card. Yes this absolutely did have something to do with her being white and the aides being black or the subject never would have been broached in the letter. Perhaps you should stop presuming you know so much and take a look at the evidence.

  • John

    Does anyone know if this person originally worked in the same positon as a man prior to choosing to act as a woman?

    • ibn nate

      “The emails document that three years after Ross transitioned from male to female, the school principal continued to refer to her as a man.”

  • Commonor

    TrAnnies complain about being bullied so they kill themselves, while we live in a society where people are bullied by law enforcement and the judicial system are simply expected to suffer. Piss off. This dude had mental issues because he cut his jank off and decided to parade as a woman.

  • Jade

    In my experience as a trans person, indulging gender dysphoria delays and compounds the illness.

  • Liberal-run Fox6 Needs to Burn to the Ground

    Here we go again with liberal-run FOX6 removing any posts that point out that fact that they are liberal-pandering and liberal-biased. I will continue to expose you FOX6 for removing posts that go against your liberal and queer-loving agendas.

  • Fred

    perhaps you shouldnt expect everyone to have to swallow the load you are trying to push down our throats, we DONT have to accept your BS cultural marxist status just as you dont have to accept our hetero status either…grow up and keep your junk in your pants, no reason to keep waving it around in our faces and expecting us to be ok with it.

  • loren

    When you do not want any association with a person beyond civil professional-only necessary engagement, you are not a bully. If the coworkers did not want to socialize, hang around the water cooler, share their lives with this person, that’s too bad. It happens all the time, in every aspect of our lives. You cannot force people to like you or to include you beyond the minimal polite interaction needed for work.

    Also, people cannot be forced to enable someone’s delusions. I imagine, without any proof of bullying, the coworkers were doing the best they could.

Comments are closed.