Hearing examiner tells Fort Worth school district not to fire teacher over Trump tweets

An independent hearing examiner said the Fort Worth school district’s move to fire Georgia Clark, a Carter-Riverside teacher whose Twitter posts against immigrant students sparked a backlash, was not justified.

Clark, an English teacher, was placed on administrative leave in May after the district was alerted about Twitter posts that she directed to President Donald Trump. She told a district investigator she thought the messages were private.

In June, the Fort Worth school board voted 8-0 in favor of Clark’s “proposed termination.” Superintendent Kent P. Scribner recommended that Clark be terminated based on her use of racially insensitive language and her abuse of social media.

Clark, who has a continuing teacher contract, appealed the case. That appeal was reviewed by Robert C. Prather Sr., an independent examiner who issued a 76-page recommendation decision just days before the Labor Day holiday.

“It is recommended that the FWISD administration’s proposed termination of the Continuing contract of Georgia Clark is not justified, is not supported by the evidence, should not be approved and should not be upheld and that Georgia Clark’s appeal of the proposed termination be Granted and that FWISD decline to terminate the employment of Georgia Clark.”

Clark’s attorney, Brandon Brim of Austin, said Clark did not want to comment on the case.

“The Fort Worth Independent School District has received a recommendation from the hearing examiner who conducted the hearing regarding the proposed termination of Ms. Georgia Clark.,” the district said in a statement. “In accordance with Chapter 21 of the Texas Education Code, the recommendation will be presented to the Board for action at a future meeting. As this is a personnel matter, the District has no further comment at this time.”

The board can either accept the recommendation and decline the proposed termination of Clark or move to for a vote to terminate. That would require that the board change the hearing examiner’s recommendation. Clark could continue to appeal the latter move.

The Hearing Examiner’s Report

A hearing in the case began on Aug. 5 before Prather, who was appointed by the commissioner of education.

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

“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,” Scribner said in June after the vote.

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 requested a due process hearing.

The examiner looked at social media firestorm that brought Clark’s tweets to the district’s attention in May.

“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.”

The district investigated the social media comments as well as racially insensitive comments she made in her classroom toward students, the summary states.

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

As the investigation unfolded, the district learned that the campus was looking into separate allegations against Clark.

One student told district officials that on May 17, Clark brought up the topic of illegal immigration and said “Mexicans should not enter our country illegally.”

The witness said students became upset. One student asked to go to the bathroom and she allegedly responded by asking the student: “Show me your papers that are saying you are legal.”

Prather stated the district didn’t show by a preponderance of the evidence that “good cause exists to terminate the continuing employment of Ms. Clark.”

Among reasons cited for the evidence falling short was a lack of credible proof that Clark made racial or intolerant remarks to students on May 17.

“Clark’s Tweets have not been proven to be knowingly untrue or false or defamatory,” the report stated.

It adds that Clark’s tweets are free speech and didn’t disclose any student’s personal information.

“Clark’s Tweets are statements of a citizen on a matter of public concern protected by the United States Constitution and do not contravene or impair policies or proper performance of the District’s functions,” Prather wrote in a series of reasons he gave for the district failing to prove its case.

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

Clark remains employed but is not in the classroom during that process, according to the district.

Clark’s case drew national attention as it moved from a topic on social media to an investigation by the school district. The district’s vote to pursue the termination of the teacher was covered by numerous medial outlets, including The New York Times and Time.

Supporters of Clark emerged on social media, saying she has a First Amendment right. Some applauded her efforts to enlist Trump in focusing on undocumented immigrants in Fort Worth.

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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.