Fort Worth school trustees face a do-over in the case of tweeting teacher Georgia Clark. They should stick to their principles and ensure she doesn’t return to a Fort Worth classroom.
Clark is the Carter-Riverside High English teacher placed on leave in May after she wrote a series of tweets about illegal immigration, directed to President Donald Trump but visible to anyone. The school board voted unanimously the next month to fire her.
Clark appealed, and an independent arbitrator heard evidence in the case and took her side, ruling that the school district’s action was unjustified. That means that at Tuesday night’s board meeting, trustees will hear the case again and must vote within 10 days whether to overrule the arbitrator.
He declared, among other things, that Clark’s tweets should be protected as free speech. In general, we agree. Teachers have free speech rights like other citizens.
But as public employees in important positions in their communities, they have responsibilities to their schools and districts, too. Among those are that they should not draw their schools into public controversy or present their views as representative of the institutions.
Her tweets were not merely, as hearing examiner Robert C. Prather Sr. concluded, “statements of a citizen on a matter of public concern protected by the United States Constitution.” Clark suggested, for all the world to see, that the president should send immigration agents to Carter-Riverside to round up students in the country illegally. Around 90% of the student body is Hispanic.
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Even those who agree with Clark about the costs of immigration must recognize that schools are required to educate all children in their communities, regardless of citizenship status. Like it or not, even children in the country illegally will probably stay here and become workers, neighbors and parents themselves. To refuse them education would hurt all of us.
Clark has maintained that she thought her messages were privately sent to Trump. Anyone who has mixed up a tweet with a text or accidentally used “reply all” on an email chain can empathize. But the effect remains the same.
Prather raises questions about preceding incidents that the district cited as signs of racial bias, cases in which Clark was said to have made derogatory comments about. Many are several years old, and student memories are fuzzy. He said the district failed to meet a basic evidentiary standard to hold her accountable in those cases.
Even without those cases, the tweets are enough to justify removing Clark.
State law provides teachers with protections against capricious firings, especially if they have “continuing” contracts, as Clark does. It’s not easy to fire a teacher, nor should it be.
If the board votes to proceed with the firing, Clark can appeal to the state education commissioner. If the commissioner sides with Clark, the district will have to employ her for another year and can then void her contract.
She could sue but such suits are generally hard to file and tend to fail.
Trustees have an obligation to protect the district from legal liability, but there’s little risk here.
Fort Worth school officials have worked hard to demonstrate the district’s commitment to inclusion. The message they sent by deciding to fire Clark was clear: Students have a right to protection from discrimination, and children should not bear the brunt of efforts to curtail immigration.
They can reinforce that message Tuesday night, and they should.