Fort Worth schools spokesperson Barbara Giffith confirmed today that former Arlington Heights High School assistant principal Joe Palazzolo, the whistle-blower in the recent Fort Worth Weekly story on attendance fraud at the school, was put on administrative leave with pay on August 26 by chief of schools Robert Ray.
He joins three other district staffers who are cooling their heels at home this semester: former Heights principal Neta Alexander, her secretary Debbie Bell, and assistant superintendent Chuck Boyd. All three were alleged to have participated in the attendance fraud or other wrongdoings at the school and were suspended pending the outcome of an internal investigation shortly after the story came out. Boyd was the principal at Heights before Alexander replaced him after he was promoted several years ago to his administration post.
Palazzolo is not charged with being part of the alleged fraud to fix attendance records at the school as Ray wrote in a press release. His investigation is “distinct from the broader investigation continuing at Arlington Heights High School.” Palazzolo, in fact, discovered the fraud and blew the whistle on the alleged perpetrators triggering the “broader” investigation.
However, instead of rewarding him for reporting what he believed to be illegal activities at the school, “Joe has suffered retaliation that just doesn’t let up, all orchestrated by the administration of [superintendent] Melody Johnson who will stop at nothing to cover up the corruption in this district,” said his representative and spokesperson Linda LaBeau, a professional mediator.
He was suspended this week by Ray for an alleged incident that happened six months ago after a parent filed a complaint with the district last Tuesday claiming that Palazzolo had “put his hands” on the parent’s daughter. He was not told who his accuser is, when exactly the incident allegedly occurred, or what he is alleged to have done
Palazzolo’s saga began when he was named campus diversity trainer. His job was to report allegations of wrongdoing from the school’s employees to the administration for resolution — with a written promise from Johnson that there would be “no retaliation” against anyone who came forward.
However, after receiving allegations of attendance fraud and other serious wrongdoings at the school from dozens of Heights staffers between April and June and duly reporting them to the administration, Palazzolo was abruptly transferred to another school with a reduction in pay. At that time, he filed a grievance against the district charging retaliation. After one day at that school, he was again transferred, and now, one week into a new school year, he has been pulled from that school and suspended indefinitely.
The lag-time between the alleged incident and the suspension has raised the ire of a number of Palazzolo’s supporters including LaBeau, Larry Shaw, head of the United Educators Association and Heights parent John Sims. It has struck more fear into the hearts of the teachers who came forward with the original allegations and the promise of no retaliation. One of them said, “Who is next?”
“Six months ago?” an incredulous Sims said when told of the accusation. “The timing of this is highly suspicious,” said Sims whose two boys attend the school. At the last board meeting he asked the board to open an outside investigation into the allegations of wrongdoing at the school that were detailed in the Weekly story.
“In no way do I support what’s gone on at that school,” he told the Weekly. “And I don’t trust the district to investigate itself,” he said. Referencing the fight between 60 to 80 students last year that his son witnessed, he said, “I worry about my boys’ safety.” Sims said that his oldest son, who was a freshman last year, was so shaken by the fight — described to his father as “seeing blood everywhere” — that he left the campus that day to escape the violence. “What does this say about the safety of that school, that a young boy would feel he had to leave to protect himself. … Mr. Palazzolo and a few coaches were the only ones out there trying to break up the fight, because they were not allowed to call the police right away. How confident does that make a parent feel?”
Now, he said, Palazzolo, who was one of the few who tried to enforce discipline on the campus, has been suspended under very suspicious circumstances. “If this happened six months ago, why wasn’t it reported at the time? Why wait until now, after Mr. Palazzolo has blown the whistle on all of the problems there. …This is being done to him to protect the administration. … Well, what about the kids? And where is Judy Needham (board member who represents Heights) in all of this? She hasn’t even been showing up at the board meetings.”
Shaw, who said the timing of the suspension “doesn’t pass my smell test,” is also disturbed about why the incident wasn’t reported at the time. He said that Palazzolo’s personnel records show no complaints, no letters of reprimands, nothing to indicate that anyone ever reported such an incident. “This man has nothing in his personnel file but evaluations that are filled with high praise for his abilities,” he said. “This [suspension] is very, very suspicious, and is a tactic to scare the teachers,” he said.
According to LaBeau, the complaint was made by the parents of a girl “with a history of discipline problems.” LaBeau said she has reason to believe that the accuser is the father of a student who had to be disciplined by Palazzolo last year for missing classes and being abusive both physcially and verbally to staff members. Her father came to the school and threatened to kill Palazzolo and to harm Palazzolo’s daughter who was then a freshman, according to LaBeau.
Palazzolo declined to be interviewed. He has been warned, LaBeau said, not to speak to any district employee, not to go to any public schools or school funcions and to report every weekday morning to the adminstration where he must sign in and then go home. “He has to show that he’s not leaving town. It is like being on probation for a crime,” LaBeau said.