Ruling: An ISD had “good cause” to fire a teacher over a series of anti-immigrant tweets she sent to then President Donald Trump in 2019. Georgia Clark v. Fort Worth ISD, No. 03-21-00275-CV. Issued Jan. 25 by the Texas Third Court of Appeals (Austin).
FWISD fired continuing-contract high school English teacher Clark after she posted, in the final days of the 2018-19 school year, a series of tweets to then President Trump supporting anti-immigrant policies. Clark erroneously believed that her tweets to Trump would be private, and the fact that they quickly became public resulted in intense media scrutiny, including numerous phone calls to Clark’s school and district headquarters.
- Note: One of her tweets, for example, complained that FWISD is “loaded with illegal students from Mexico” and that her school “had been taken over by them” and by drug dealers. She also implored Trump to “get rid of the illegals from Fort Worth” and harshly criticized, by name, an Hispanic-surnamed assistant principal at her school.
The dispute wound up before an appeals court after Clark challenged the decision by the trial judge, who had affirmed the FWISD school board decision to terminate Clark’s employment contract over the tweets.
- Note: Earlier, an independent hearing examiner and the education commissioner both concluded that Clark should not be fired. (See TEN, Dec. 9, 2019.)
A three-member Third Court panel, in this decision, upheld FWISD’s right to terminate Clark’s contract on a finding that — contrary to what the commissioner had ruled and the hearing examiner had recommended — the school board had “good cause” (based on the “substantial evidence” contained in the hearing examiner’s findings) to fire Clark.
Criticized the Commissioner
The justices criticized the commissioner for arbitrarily concluding that FWISD lacked the required substantial evidence to justify termination.
The justices noted, for instance, that although the hearing examiner had recommended against termination, FWISD properly based its decision on the findings by the hearing examiner that Clark’s tweets created community concerns regarding the effects on students’ learning, mental health and general well being — and could result in a possible chilling effect that could prevent some children from attending school.
The hearing examiner — in her unusually lengthy (76-page) proposal for a decision — had also cited the threats and security concerns created by the public outcry over Clark’s tweets to Trump, the justices noted.
The issues cited by the hearing examiner justified tipping the balance away from Clark’s First Amendment rights to contact a public official about a matter of concern for which the official has authority, and toward FWISD’s justification for firing her based on the “good cause” reasons cited by the hearing examiner, the justices concluded in affirming dismissal.