Education

Board votes to fire teacher over tweets, but she remains employed pending possible appeal

School board proposes to fire Texas teacher after tweets to Trump on illegal immigration

The Fort Worth Independent School District held a special meeting on Tuesday, June 4, 2019, concerning Carter-Riverside High teacher Georgia Clark's tweets against immigration to Donald Trump. The school board proposed to terminate her employment.
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The Fort Worth Independent School District held a special meeting on Tuesday, June 4, 2019, concerning Carter-Riverside High teacher Georgia Clark's tweets against immigration to Donald Trump. The school board proposed to terminate her employment.

An English teacher whose Twitter posts against immigration sparked a backlash on social media was recommended for termination by the Fort Worth school board over her use of racially insensitive language.

The board voted 8-0 in favor of a “proposed termination” of Georgia Clark, who was placed on administrative leave last week while the district investigated reports that she used racially insensitive language against students at Carter-Riverside High School on social media.

Now, it is up to Clark to decide if she wants to seek an appeal with the state. She has 15 days.

“Once the tweets came to light, so, too, did other allegations, and it was my professional judgment that it was in the best interest of the district,” said Superintendent Kent P. Scribner after the vote.

The board determined that Clark’s conduct and the public reaction to her conduct compromised her ability to teach.

The board was required to vote on the issue because Clark is a contract employee who has protections under Texas laws. The termination moved Clark’s case into an appeal phase with the Texas Education Agency. Under that process, Clark can request a due process hearing.

The education commissioner could then appoint a hearing officer who would listen to both sides of the issue. Generally, the hearing takes place within 60 days.

The Fort Worth school board would have to vote again on the matter based on the recommendation of the hearing officer.

Clark remains employed by the district with pay during that process, according to the district.

“This board has a strong record of supporting students and their quest for success, college, career and community leadership,” Scribner said. “Fort Worth serves 86,000 students, and it is our goal that we treat each one with dignity and respect, and based on the information that we have, we think this is the most responsible recommendation at this time.”

Teacher’s tweet
A teacher in Fort Worth schools was placed on administrative leave on Wednesday after a series of comments on social media drew a backlash.

Public outcry

More than a dozen immigrant allies attended the meeting. Several urged the board to fire Clark and seek revocation of her teaching certificate.

“This community demands that this teacher be terminated,” said Joanna Cardoza, who represents the League of United Latin American Citizens, or LULAC, District 21.

The district found Clark behaved inappropriately and violated the district’s social media use policy when she posted several comments about illegal immigration and schools.

The comments were directed at President Donald Trump and singled out Fort Worth schools and Carter-Riverside High School, where Clark was teaching English. The posts came to light on social media as people asked the district to do something about the educator’s racially insensitive comments.

“The tweets were what brought this to light,” Scribner said, adding that he made the recommendation to fire Clark in the best interest of students.

Fifteen people spoke in support of Clark’s termination.

No one spoke in support of Clark during the public comment portion of the meeting. She was not present at the meeting.

A request for comment sent to Clark’s attorney via email was not immediately answered Tuesday after the vote.

The issue has drawn national attention as supporters of Clark argue she has a right to free speech and critics call her out for racism. The discussion also delved into the rights of undocumented students to get an education in Texas and the United States.

Groups aligned for or against Clark in the days leading up to Tuesday’s meeting.

Clark’s posts drew some support on social media by people who argued against illegal immigration. The group Fort Worth Republican Women urged people to speak up against firing the teacher and to send emails to school board trustees.

“The only item on the agenda?” wrote the club on Facebook. “Firing the teacher who spoke out against illegal immigration.”

Meanwhile, the immigrant advocacy group United Fort Worth asked people to speak out against a teacher “who wants to turn classrooms into deportation zones.”

Some speakers alluded to their immigrant experiences and how teachers can serve as role models who help vulnerable students succeed academically.

Julio Argueta, a TCU student and graduate from South Hills High School, said as an immigrant student he would have found it crippling to attend classes with a teacher such as Clark.

Clark has a history of run-ins with the district over her language and behavior toward students. In 2013, the district recommended to terminate her, but a teacher group helped her remain with the district after it helped find a resolution for her.

“Why did we wait until now?” Argueta asked the board. “We need to fire this teacher and we need to prevent her from ever teaching again.”

Teacher under scrutiny

Clark told Fort Worth school district officials she didn’t realize her comments about illegal immigration were public when she reached out to President Donald Trump on Twitter.

Clark told an investigator with the school district that she had a Twitter account and that her Twitter handle was @Rebecca1939.

“Mr. President, Fort Worth Independent School District is loaded with illegal students from Mexico,” read one of the posts linked to her account. “Carter-Riverside High School has been taken over by them.”

Clark was investigated by the district for inappropriate behavior and violating the social media policy, according to a summary filed by the district’s Office of Professional Standards.

An investigation is pending into separate complaints that Clark used racially insensitive language to students.

Clark’s posts tapped into a national debate about immigration, including the belief that students with no immigration status shouldn’t be allowed in schools.

However, public education of undocumented students was determined a right under the 1982 Supreme Court case Plyler v. Doe.

In that case, the Supreme Court struck down a Texas statute that allowed school districts to deny admission to children with no immigration status and withhold funds from local school districts for the education of undocumented children. The statute was found to violate the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.

School board president Jacinto “Cinto” Ramos Jr. alluded to that case in a prepared statement. He stressed that all students are welcome.

“Fort Worth ISD values its responsibility to serve all students who reside in the district and who attend Fort Worth ISD schools,” Ramos said. “The U.S. Supreme Court has expressly held that no student may be denied a public school education based upon their citizenship status or lack there of.”

Staff writer Mitch Mitchell contributed to this report.
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Diane Smith, a graduate from the University of Texas at Austin, has been a reporter for the Star-Telegram since 1997. Smith, who has covered municipal government, immigration and education, has won multiple awards for reporting, most recently as part of a Star-Telegram team recognized by the Headliners Foundation of Texas for coverage of child abuse and Fort Worth’s Las Vegas Trail area.

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