Former Arlington Heights assistant principal says Fort Worth school district officials want him fired

FORT WORTH -- A former assistant principal at Arlington Heights High School who filed complaints of wrongdoing at the school said Wednesday that he has been told by district administrators that they are recommending that he be fired.

Joseph Palazzolo said, "The Fort Worth Independent School District has taken this action against me in retaliation for reporting violations of law that included the falsifying of student attendance records; the disparate treatment of students based on race; the illegal use of booster club funds; the inappropriate conduct of school officials with students ... all with the knowledge of senior district officials."

The school district and the Texas Education Agency began looking into complaints about the school in recent months, based largely on Palazzolo's complaint.

Superintendent Melody Johnson said Tuesday that the district's investigation at Arlington Heights was complete. But citing personnel matters, she would not disclose its findings.

Clint Bond, a school district spokesman, said school officials could not comment on any personnel issues before board action and approval.

Meanwhile, the Tarrant County district attorney's office has confirmed that it is investigating the use of athletic booster club funds at Arlington Heights.

Criminal background

Palazzolo, who said his termination will be voted on at next week's board meeting, said he was told by administrators that they are recommending his dismissal because he failed to disclose his criminal history when applying for his job.

In 1997, Palazzolo pleaded guilty to a federal misdemeanor charge of failing to pay past-due child support, court records show.

He was placed on one year of unsupervised probation, according to records.

Oklahoma court documents show that Palazzolo received a deferred sentence in 1988 after pleading guilty to misdemeanor charges of violating the Oklahoma Security Guard and Private Investigator Act. Palazzolo, who ran a security company at the time, said the incident pertained to an employee who had a lapsed license.

Palazzolo said he was not convicted of any crimes. He said he served in the Army and has cleared education criminal background checks since then. His attorney, Jason Smith, said Palazzolo understood that he was to provide information only if he had been convicted of a felony.

The district's current employment application asks candidates to list information if they have been "convicted, fined, placed on probation, placed on parole, given a suspended sentence, given deferred adjudication ... in connection with any violation of law (misdemeanor or felony), regardless of any subsequent court dismissal, sealing or expungement."

It was not known late Wednesday how long that wording has been on the application.

Palazzolo, who joined the district in 2007, said district administrators also told him that a complaint was filed against him regarding a homecoming dance last year in which he allegedly placed his hands on a female student's shoulder. Palazzolo denied that ever happened.

"I have done nothing wrong," he said.

The student who filed the complaint, Margaret Renfro, said Palazzolo would not let her and friends into the dance and falsely claimed that they had been drinking. Renfro, who was student body president last year, said that they had not been drinking, that Palazzolo insisted that they leave and that he put his hand on her shoulder and escorted her out the building.

She said that she filed a complaint against him about a week later and that her mother did so again in the spring when they were told by administrators that the paperwork was lost.

"All we wanted was an apology, and he refused," said Renfro, who graduated in June.

Palazzolo said he learned of the complaint only after he voiced his concerns of wrongdoing at Heights.

'Manipulation of attendance'

The issues Palazzolo brought up included allegations that administrators at Heights were falsifying student attendance records to improve graduation rates and bump up the school's academic rating from unacceptable to acceptable.

Palazzolo told district officials that as graduation neared this year, "the manipulation of attendance was completely out of control with untrue 'corrections' numbering in the thousands," according to documents he filed with the district.

He also said one teacher used sexually explicit and foul language in front of students and other staff.

Since the investigation into Heights began, Palazzolo has filed grievances against the district claiming that he has been retaliated against, including being reassigned twice.

He was placed on paid leave during the first week of school when administrators began investigating the complaint against him.

Two former Heights principals and a school secretary remain on paid leave in connection with the investigation.

Booster club

David Lobingier, a prosecutor with the economic crimes unit of the district attorney's office, said this week that his office is investigating athletic booster club spending at Heights.

Lobingier said a citizen alerted his office to concerns about possible misappropriations of funds, but the prosecutor declined to give further details.

Chris Ryan, a booster board member and past president, said he is conducting an internal audit of the club's finances.

"We pulled all the receipts and are matching them up with what our books show," Ryan said. "So far, I'm not seeing anything glaring that jumps out."

Johnson would not disclose whether the district investigated any employee's involvement in booster club funds.

Johnson did say board policy requires that a booster club’s financial records be maintained by the group and not school officials.