FORT WORTH -- An Arlington Heights High School teacher who said he was trying to do the right thing was caught in an unexpected turn of events this week during a state hearing about the firing of an assistant principal.
Chad Whitt, a special education teacher and Heights soccer coach, testified Tuesday as a character witness for the former assistant principal, Joseph Palazzolo, who asked for the Texas Education Agency hearing this week to challenge his termination.
Whitt also testified that he reported his concerns about incidents at Heights as Palazzolo did.
During questioning by Palazzolo's attorney, Jason Smith, Whitt acknowledged that he was convicted as a teenager of a misdemeanor. He did not disclose the conviction on his Fort Worth school district job application because he thought it had been expunged from his record, he said. When the district's criminal background check pulled up the record, he said he was told that he could teach in the district anyway. Whitt did not name the person who told him the misdemeanor was not an employment issue.
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One of the reasons Palazzolo was fired, administrators have said, is that he did not disclose two misdemeanors on his job application.
Wednesday, Whitt told hearing examiner Rick Rickman that within five minutes of his testimony the previous day, the district's attorneys told him that they would investigate whether he falsified his job application because they have to treat everyone the same. "I'm just trying to tell the truth," said Whitt. He said he had long feared that district officials would retaliate against him for bringing forward concerns about Heights.
"This happened in 1990 when I was a senior in high school, and I kicked a car," Whitt testified. "That I may be removed or terminated over this issue ... that's criminal."
District spokeswoman Barbara Griffith said the attorneys' words to Whitt were "absolutely not" retaliation. They approached Whitt to make sure he was all right after becoming visibly upset about retaliation during his testimony, she said.
Whitt's misdemeanor "was unknown to the district," Griffith said. The district has no record of anyone discussing the matter with Whitt when he applied for a job. Administrators haven't decided what they will do, she said.
Sandra Carpenter, one of the attorneys, insinuated in questioning Whitt that he had been set up by Smith to reveal the information.
Smith said his question to Whitt was relevant to show that not all employees who fail to disclose misdemeanor convictions are fired and, in fact, are hired despite convictions, in some cases.
Palazzolo has testified that he did not know about his misdemeanor convictions until this year because they never came up on previous background checks. He has said he believed the two related incidents were settled administratively --one involving child support issues and one involving the license of an employee in a security firm he briefly ran.
Rickman became angry after Whitt's testimony Wednesday and talked with Smith and the district's attorneys in private for several minutes.
Palazzolo maintains that he was being fired for reporting alteration of attendance records and inappropriate behavior by a coach and campus administrator. The district said he was fired for failing to disclose the misdemeanors and also for being hostile toward staff members and students. After hearing all testimony and reviewing evidence, Rickman will report his findings about Palazzolo later.
Eva Marie Ayala, 817-390-7700