Former Arlington Heights educator files whistle-blower lawsuit against district

Posted Wednesday, Jul. 11, 2012  comments  Print Reprints
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FORT WORTH -- A former assistant principal at Arlington Heights High School who says he was fired after reporting falsification of student attendance records and misuse of booster club funds by officials is suing the Fort Worth school district.

Joseph Palazzolo of Weatherford is asking to be reinstated to his job or a comparable position with the district and is seeking damages including court and attorney fees. The suit was filed Friday.

"There are a lot of teachers throughout the district that have supported me. I feel like this is not only a fight to clear my name and reputation, but give others the strength to come forward and do the right thing," Palazzolo said Tuesday.

Palazzolo said the district fired him Feb. 14 in retaliation for reporting the violations in 2010, including an inappropriate relationship between a supervisor and a coach.

He said he told district officials that the Heights booster club checkbook was being maintained by girls athletic directors, not parents and supporters, and that some vendors had not been paid for at least a year. He said he made "allegations of numerous issues involving misappropriation of funds."

Palazzolo alleged that student discipline was unfair to minorities, "including white students not being disciplined for engaging in conduct for which minority students were disciplined," the lawsuit said.

Palazzolo said campus administrators were falsifying attendance records to improve graduation rates and to bump up the school's academic rating to acceptable.

The Texas Education Agency eventually completed an audit of one week of attendance and found in April 2011 that the district overreported attendance for some students, a finding that caused the loss of about $18,000 in funding.

But district officials have said Palazzolo was fired for reasons including lying about his criminal history on his application, not disclosing a termination, creating a hostile work environment and aggression toward students.

A hearing examiner appointed by the agency upheld Palazzolo's dismissal after a long hearing, saying school trustees had good cause to terminate him. But a new hearing was ordered after it was determined that the district overpaid the examiner during the first one.

The district investigated and verified some of Palazzolo's concerns, including a sexual relationship between a coach and a supervisor. The October 2010 report also said Palazzolo singled out minorities for punishment, lied on his job application and falsified a student's disciplinary record.

This is the second lawsuit that Palazzolo has pending against the district. His first lawsuit, filed in October 2010, alleges that after he filed the complaints, he was demoted by being transferred to a job that paid less.

"This lawsuit is bigger than Joseph Palazzolo. It's about whether the school district is going to be truthful with families and treat students equally," said Jason Smith of Fort Worth, an attorney representing Palazzolo.

District spokesman Clint Bond said Tuesday that the district will have "no response to pending litigation."

Both lawsuits were filed in Wise County. The state's whistle-blower act allows a government employee to file suit in any county in an established council of governments, such as the North Central Texas council, which includes Tarrant and Wise counties.

This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.

Jessamy Brown, 817-390-7326

Twitter: @jessamybrown

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