In May, 2019, Georgia Clark, a teacher in Fort Worth ISD, posted a letter to President Trump on Twitter. It was immediately apparent that Ms. Clark did not understand how Twitter works. She thought this communication was going directly to the President, and only to the President. Instead, it was on the social media platform for all to see, and eventually all of us did see it.
Excerpts from her tweet:
“FWISD is loaded with illegal students from Mexico.”
“Anything you can do to remove the illegals from Fort Worth would be greatly appreciated.”
Ms. Clark had a continuing contract with the district, thus enjoying the greatest degree of legal protection a Texas teacher can have. But when the story blew up and multiple parents spoke at the June board meeting, the district moved to terminate Ms. Clark’s employment. Here’s what happened next:
THE HEARING EXAMINER: The independent hearing examiner recommended that Ms. Clark not be terminated. He determined that she was speaking as a citizen on a matter of public concern, did not violate state or federal law, and that her interests in free speech outweighed the interests of her employer. Therefore, the board did not produce “good cause” sufficient to terminate the teacher’s employment.
THE BOARD: The board disagreed. Citing the significant disruption in response to the tweet, it concluded that there was good cause to terminate Ms. Clark’s employment.
THE COMMISSIONER: The Commissioner reversed the board’s decision, but steered clear of the First Amendment issue. Instead, the Commissioner held that the district made procedural errors in the process of rejecting the hearing examiner’s recommendation. The Commissioner ordered Ms. Clark’s reinstatement.
TRAVIS COUNTY DISTRICT COURT: The district court sided with the FWISD board. Ms. Clark is once again out of a job.
COURT OF APPEALS: And now we get the decision of the Court of Appeals, which agreed with the district court. The Court held that there was good cause to terminate the teacher’s employment. Yes, she was “speaking as a citizen on a matter of public concern” when she wrote to the President about immigration. But the Court held that the district’s interests as her employer were more important.
Three months prior to Ms. Clark’s fatal tweet the board in FWISD adopted a resolution calling for “the safest possible environment for its students and employees.” The resolution aspired to encourage an environment that would be “free of insecurity and fear, for all its employees, students, and their families regardless of their immigration status.” (Emphasis added).
This board resolution was critical to the Court’s ruling. Key Quote:
Undisputed evidence in the record—the tweets posted by Clark to former President Donald Trump—supplies substantial evidence that Clark violated the school district’s policy. Specifically, the school board explained that because Clark’s tweets called for an investigation to identify and remove students from the district based on immigration status, the tweets violated the district’s policy.
We should point out that Fort Worth’s policy was not just Fort Worth’s policy. It is settled constitutional law that students residing in Texas are entitled to free public education regardless of how they got here. Educators have no reason to inquire as to immigration status. This was decided in Plyler v. Doe, a Supreme Court ruling from 1982.
This one is Clark v. Fort Worth ISD, decided by the Court of Appeals in Austin on January 25, 2023. It’s cited at 2023 WL 376901.
DAWG BONE: IMMIGRATION STATUS OF STUDENTS IS NOT OUR BUSINESS. LET’S NOT EVEN ASK.
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