The teacher who tweeted to President Trump: Case takes another turn….

You may recall the case of the Fort Worth ISD teacher who reached out to President Trump asking him to “remove the illegals” from the district.  This was done on Twitter. The teacher did not understand how Twitter works, and thought that she was communicating privately with the president.

The district terminated the teacher’s employment with the district, but the Commissioner overturned that decision.  The Commissioner did not make a ruling one way or the other on the constitutional issue: was this protected free speech?  Instead, he reversed the board’s ruling because of the way the board handled the recommendation from the hearing examiner. 

The Commissioner outlined the very interesting issue presented by the facts.  You have a teacher on her own time, using her own resources, communicating with an elected official on a matter of public concern.  That’s free speech.  You have a school district with legitimate concerns about the blowback and disruption those communications, which were publicly available on Twitter, would generate in a school district with a large Hispanic population.   Courts apply a balancing test in cases like that. Commissioner Morath describes it this way:

What needs to be weighed is the interests of the teacher, as a citizen, in commenting upon matters of public concern and the interest of the state, as an employer, in promoting the efficiency of the public services it performs through its employees.

Having teased us by laying out that very interesting issue, the Commissioner scooted right past it like a running back avoiding a tackle:

However, instead of blazing a new trail in constitutional law by examining this novel question, this case will be resolved based on other issues. (Emphasis added).

The Commissioner then examined how the board handled the recommendation of the independent hearing examiner (IHE).  The IHE’s recommendation included 52 Conclusions of Law, leading to the ultimate recommendation that the teacher’s actions were protected by the Constitution and she should not be fired for this. 

The board rejected that recommendation and fired the teacher.  In doing so, the board rejected 32 of those 52 Conclusions of Law.  It did not adopt any new ones.  What was left, according to the Commissioner, failed to establish any good cause to terminate a continuing contract:

In the present case, Respondent rejected in whole or in part many Conclusions of Law, but it adopted no completely new or partially new Conclusions of Law. This is significant because there is no Conclusion of Law in Respondent’s Decision that finds there is good cause to terminate Petitioner’s contract and there are no Conclusions of Law which are determinations regarding good cause that support the ultimate conclusion that good cause exists to terminate Petitioner’s contract.

That was the decision of T.E.A. on November 25, 2019.  The case is Clark v. Fort Worth ISD,  Docket No. 006-R2-10-2019.

Now the Travis County District Court has reversed T.E.A.’s decision and reinstated the decision of the school board.  The Travis County judge did not issue an opinion that explains the reasoning—just an order that the T.E.A. decision is reversed and the school board’s decision is “reinstated.” This happened on March 23, 2021. 

So the scoreboard so far looks like this:

            IHE:                Teacher should not be fired.

            Board:             Teacher should be fired.

            T.E.A.             Teacher should not be fired.

         District Court: Teacher should be fired.

It’s not over! The next round will be the Court of Appeals.  Stay tuned, Loyal Readers!

DAWG BONE:  TWITTER IS NOT PRIVATE.  I THINK WE ALL UNDERSTAND THAT NOW. Tomorrow: Cookies….ATVs….how are they different?