The four-year saga of former Arlington Heights assistant principal Joe Palazzolo looks to be coming to an end. A jury could reach a verdict as soon as Wednesday in the trial of his whistleblower suit against the Fort Worth school district. In 2010 Palazzolo reported a litany of wrongdoings at the school. He was summarily fired and has been in and out of courthouses and hearing rooms ever since.
In a Wise County courtroom, Victoria Neave and Mark Scott have aired some of the district’s dirty laundry. School board member Ann Sutherland testified that some information was withheld from the board while it discussed Palazzolo’s fate — including the existence of about 80 letters from teachers supporting him. Sutherland also reluctantly admitted that she believes he was fired as an act of retaliation.
Michael Menchaca, head of the district’s Office of Professional Standards, hasn’t fared well — several witnesses have portrayed him as a villainous figure. Sharon Herrera, the district’s former diversity representative, testified that Menchaca once instructed her to falsify documents. Fort Worth Police Detective Brent Halford, who investigated the theft of laptops and other equipment from Heights, revealed that Menchaca fingered Palazzolo as a suspect in the burglaries –– several months after a suspect had confessed to the crimes and after Palazzolo had turned information over to the Texas Education Agency.
Retaliation has been a reoccurring theme. Herrera, Heights teacher/coach Chad Whitt, and other teachers all admitted they were terrified to testify, fearing they would lose their jobs. Almost every educator who testified broke down in tears at some point.
Defense attorneys, meanwhile, called a former teacher, two former counselors, and a former Heights vice principal to the stand. They all testified that Palazzolo was a bully and a divisive figure at the school, someone they believed should not be allowed around children.
On the witness stand, Kerwin Cormier, the assistant principal at Heights in charge of attendance, called Palazzolo “the most inherently evil person” she’d ever met.
Free At Last
A Tarrant County family court judge has dismissed an attempt by the Texas Attorney General’s Office to collect more than $20,000 in unpaid child support from the Rev. Kyev Tatum. Tatum said he didn’t owe the money because his ex-wife signed an affidavit saying she didn’t need it.
A spokeswoman for the AG’s office said child-support workers were acting at the behest of his ex-wife.
But now, Janece Rolfe said, “She has chosen to close the case, and we are complying with her wishes.”