The long-awaited Fort Worth schools’ investigative report into illegalities at Arlington Heights High School was released late yesterday evening and confirms the majority of the allegations of wrongdoing at that school first reported in this paper on August 11 in Powder Keg at Arlington Heights High and in numerous follow-up stories.While the report supports the allegations, the investigators also continue with the district’s apparent quest to kill the messenger, supporters of whistleblower Joe Palazzolo say. A full story on this report and its impact on the district as well as the parties involved will be in next week’s print edition.
Basically, the report supports the majority of the allegations of a hostile work environment, sexual harassment, theft of school property, and attendance fraud, confirming that students “ineligible to graduate based on credits, did … graduate” laying most of the blame of fraud on former assistant principal Harold Nichols who resigned last June, and implicating a number of others including former girls’ athletic director Izzy Perry who also resigned in June and former principal Neta Alexander, now on administrative leave.
It supports all of the allegations surrounding the attendance fraud, including the fact that students were allowed to clean for credit and that “student attendance records were improperly altered” to allow students to get credit for a class he or she did not attend for 90 percent of the class time required by law. What it doesn’t do is give credit to those who brought the charges to the attention of the district in the first place, former assistant principal Palazzolo, also on adminstrative leave, and more than a dozen Heights teachers — all of whom have been charged instead with a “conspiracy” to bring the alleged wrongdoings out after their attempts to get help from the school’s former principal fell on deaf ears. Palazzolo comes in for even more harsh treatment as the investigators paint him as a “bully” with a hidden past.
Five pages of the report relate directly to Palazzolo, charging him with bullying teachers and students, lying on his application for employment, and show that the district engaged in a full-scale investigation of his private life going back 20 or more years — after he reported the allegations that were basically upheld by the district’s investigators. The bullying accusations are based on hearsay and an anonymous letter received by the district several weeks ago; the report does not provide documents to support the charge.
The information he is alleged to have omitted are two misdemeanor convictions of 13 and 20 years ago, one for a conflict with his ex-wife over child support, the other for an employee of his long-defunct security firm failing to renew her security license. The report attaches no supporting documentation for the allegations against Palazzolo and only states that he has “criminal convictions” without clarifying that they were misdemeanors, that Palzzolo paid the child support and a fine for his employee’s lapse.
The report also states it has numerous complaints filed by parents against Palazzolo accusing him of improper disciplinary actions against their children, especially minority children, in spite of the fact that in June when Palazzolo and his then representative Larry Shaw of the United Educators Association met with Alexander, Alexander said then that there were “no complaints” in Palazzolo’s file
His supporters, including more than a dozen teachers at AHHS, have called the attack on Palazzolo a “witch hunt” and an attempt by the district to “kill the messenger.” A whistleblower lawsuit is waiting in the wings.
He issued a statement late last night that says, in part, “I reported illegal conduct by district officials and they turned around and investigated me. I’ve done nothing to justify termination (which he has been threatened with.)” He said that while the district “claims I omitted information from my application” officials have also stated to him that “they no longer have a copy of my original application.”
As for the discrimination charges, the Rev. Kyev Tatum, head of the local chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, who has filed three civil-rights violations against the school district for discriminatory practices against minority students at the school, said that Palazzolo is not the culprit. “I fully support Mr. Palazzolo,” he told the Fort Worth Weeklyin an earlier interview, adding, “I see him as a scapegoat.” Discrimination at Heights, he said, predates Palazzolo’s tenure there by several years.
Superintendent Melody Johnson issued this statement: “I have confidence in this report. We cannot deal in rumors, assumptions, accusations and innuendos. Ultimately, the facts must speak for themselves.” Stay tuned