Last night, the Fort Worth School Board voted to uphold hearing examiner Rick Rickman’s recommendation that embattled whistle blower and former Arlington Heights High School assistant principal Joe Palazzolo be terminated for “good cause”.  The vote came right at midnight last night following Palazzolo attorney Jason Smith’s appeal to the Board to take the full ten days it is allowed by law to consider the facts and the errors within the ruling before it either accepts or rejects the Rickman conclusions. 

Smith had filed a brief with the Board earlier that day raising serious questions about the veracity of the ruling based on a number of critical errors in Rickman’s facts not the least of which was his misidentification of a white student as an African-American in order to support the district’s allegation that Palazzolo punished minority students more harshly and with more frequency than whites.

Rickman used as an example of such disparate treatment an incident between Palazzolo and a student with the initials “SS” claiming that the student was African American. 


            The student in question is actually white. That major error was first reported by this paper on February 27.

 When Smith pointed out the discrepancy, the district’s outside attorney, Sandi Tarski, admitted that the student was indeed white, but that the error was insignificant and did not change the claim.  She said that Rickman inserted the wrong initials and that the student who should have been identified was black.  However, the incident that was reported by Rickman as the example dealt with a transfer student who was failing four classes.   District policy requires that such students must pass all of their classes in order to maintain their eligibility to remain at Heights. At the request of her teachers and her mother, Palazzolo said that he pulled the student from class to warn her that she was failing and that her transfer could be rescinded. “I was simply enforcing district policy,” he said. Rickman even identified the student more specifically by describing a bracelet she was wearing when Palazzolo removed her from the class and comments that he had made regarding the bracelet that the student said had been created by her mother. The details about this student would not have applied to anyone else.

Rickman dug himself into a deeper hole by writing that the incident proved “bullying, and unprofessional conduct” by Palazzolo, leading Principal Neta Alexander to conclude  that “Palazzolo did not work well with African-Americans and was constantly in conflict with them.”

            Another misstatement of fact dealt with a couple of Hispanic students who were wanted by the Fort Worth police for felony burglerys. The attorney for the district painted Palazzolo as being so eager to make an example of one kid that Palazzolo identified him as a flight risk and allowed him to be handcuffed and walked down the hall between several cops in front of his fellow students. The incident was used to show Palazzolo’s bias toward minorities.

            The attorney and Rickman both ignored the testimony of the police officer in charge of the arrest that day. Whenever he had to deal with a problem kid at Heights, Detective Sgt. Frank Halford testified on day two of the hearing, then principal Alexander always referred him to Palazzolo who helped him handle the situation in a “professional manner.” The incident referred to by the district’s attorney was one that Halford was very familiar with. He testified that he contacted Palazzolo to tell him that he would be coming on the campus to issue two felony arrest warrants and asked him not to warn the students because they were “a high flight risk.” It was Halford who made the decision to arrest the student in class, not Palazzolo. The other kid was at home. However, when Halford arrived at the residence later that day, the student was packing to leave town.  It was later revealed that his mother had been tipped off by someone from the school.

            None of that testimony made it into the Rickman report. Nor did the testimony of the eight teachers from AHHS who worked closely with Palazzolo who testified at length on his behalf.    The above are just two of numerous examples of factual errors or omissions cited by Smith.

            The vote to upholdPalazzolo’s firing was 5-2. Trustee Judy Needham, who figured prominently in the testimony as one who wanted to get rid of Palazzolo, left before the vote. Trustee Ann Sutherland, a strong supporter of Palazzolo, recused herself because, she said, that while she knew she could be fair, she had received materials about the case outside the official channels. Board members Juan Rangel and Carlos Vasquez voted in favor of Palazzolo.

            The final step in this process is an appeal of the decision to the commissioner of education.  Following that, Smith said the case will go to district court as a whistleblower lawsuit against the district. Fort Worth Weekly will have a more detailed report on this case in the near future.


  1. Congratulation to Palazzolo, your case can have a better outcome in the district court.

    Fort Worth employees: SHshshshshshshshshshsh

    2012 is getting closer, get involved in the election of the Mayor and some of the board members district seat. But now, sshshhshshshshshshshshshshshhshs, don’t become a target.

    Also, congratulation to the district legal team. You won!

    How much ti would cost the district to fight the case against Palazzolo? Well, Needham has contributed more funds to the district in her tenure as a board member that it will be worthy to invest a couple of millions to preserve her.

    Taxpayers, let’s increase the funds for this administration to continue doing an excellent job. Reduce your contributions to churches and increase your taxes to educate the children and maintain the system.

    Now, SHshshshshshshhshhshshh

  2. And the plot thickens. I have learned the district is collecting email on private citizens supportive of Mr Palazzolo. Therefore, follow the previous FWISDleaks instructions. As to the Hearing Officers findings, any parent who has gone through a Due Process Hearing will not be surprised by the errors and ommisions in the findings of Mr. Rickman. Visit TEA special educatiion website to verify how many parents lose…99.9%. These hearing officers are not Judges. They are lawyers hired on contract by TEA. Is it any wonder why parents don’t prevail in special education matters or discipline issues? I want to go on record of liking lawyers, fair, thorough and honest lawyers who can write a full and complete finding of facts. Since I have changed my screen name twice, only to have my screen name exposed and now finding the district has a file of my private email, I am using my actual name. .

  3. Read this article and you will find out why the district lawyers are trying to attack Palazzolo. In the civil court, the district argument about his character and violation of the law won’t be considered a matter that weight for the employer internal procedures. Palazzolo have great chances of making the case in civil court because the timeline of events will validate the reaction of the district toward his character and identifying him as a whistleblower. The fact that the district fired him, it makes his case a legitimate one as the whistleblower because now in court he will have the ground to justify his case. The board members have their best chance of avoiding being suit if they would keep him as an employee. It is too late and there is not return to the negotiation table. Palazzolo was attacked to weak his character. All of these strategies are part of the process. He needs to get a team of lawyers who have the experience and endurance. Read the article, you can become the next whistleblower.

    “Top Ten Things You Should Know Before You Blow the Whistle
    Posted on March 9, 2011 by Lindsey Williams

    Article Reposted from the Corporate Crime Reporter (March 9, 2011)

    Whistleblowing is a hot area of legal practice.
    Well, whistleblowing can mean big money for the corporate defense attorney, for the whistleblower, and for the whistleblower’s lawyer.
    There is of course the False Claims Act – which has secured $27 billion in recoveries to the U.S. Treasury – and delivered $2.8 billion in bounty payments to citizens who have successfully blown the whistle on corporate crooks stealing from the government.
    And there is the newly enacted Dodd-Frank whistleblower provision which promises similar millions to citizens who report violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) – among other laws.
    Even the IRS has a program that rewards whistleblowers who blow the whistle on tax frauds.
    Just yesterday, a copy of The Whistleblower’s Handbook by Stephen Kohn was dropped by our office.
    Whether you are a corporate crime defense counsel, a worker thinking on turning in your crooked boss, or a whistleblower’s lawyer – we recommend you pick up this book.
    But until you do, we have distilled it and come up with the Top Ten Things You Should Know Before You Blow the Whistle.
    Number Ten: Whistleblowing is More Effective than Regulation in Controlling Corporate Crime. PriceWaterhouseCoopers interviewed 5400 CEOs, CFOs, and CCOs from nearly every major global corporation. Key finding: Whistleblowers are the most effective source of information in both detecting and rooting out corporate criminal activity.
    Number Nine: Don’t Delay. You might have the best case in the world – worth tens of millions to the government and millions to you. But if you don’t file it on time, it could be worth nothing. Delay is deadly.
    Number Eight: Be Prepared for All Hell to Break Loose. “Whistleblowers need to be prepared,” Kohn writes. “If they think blowing the whistle will automatically win them a grand prize, they should think again. They need to understand the serious nature of whistleblowing, the impact it may have on their career and family, and the necessary steps that they may take to protect themselves.”
    Number Seven: Embrace Your Inner Whistleblower. “I am not a whistleblower – I was only doing my job!” That is something you will commonly hear from whistleblowers. Kohn says that “no one takes the job intending to become a whistleblower.” But sooner or later, you’re going to have to embrace your inner whistleblower – or you will be in trouble. “Without accepting this change in status, employees cannot begin to take the crucial steps to protect their careers.”
    Number Six: Don’t Take Hush Money. After bringing a case, the corporation might try and buy you off. One famous case involved Brown & Root in 1987 and a journeyman electrician, Joseph Macktal, Jr. Macktal was fired from the Comanche Peak nuclear power construction site in Stevensville, Texas for raising safety concerns. “Brown & Root wanted his silence and was willing to pay,” Kohn writes. “Macktal’s attorneys wanted their fees and strongly urged him to accept the money offer.” He did. But the settlement – which included a gag order – “ate at Macktal’s conscience.” He eventually hired new attorneys and successfully challenged the settlement agreement.
    Number Five: Beware of Hotlines. Big corporations often set up hotlines, with toll free numbers, and urge employees who witness wrongdoing to call the number and report the “concern.” Should a whistleblower do it? Like the hotline programs themselves, Kohn is conflicted. The hotline programs “empower the fox to police the chickens,” he writes. “But they can also put the company on the spot. They force the company to live up to its commitment to transparency and accountability.”
    Number Four: Don’t Take Legal Advice from a Corporate Compliance Officer. “Compliance officers and hotline investigators work for the company – they do not work for the employees,” Kohn says. “They are under no obligation to inform employees of their rights or the laws that may protect them.”
    Number Three: Be Skeptical about Corporate Confidentiality. “It is well known that the very nature of an employee’s complaint can act to ‘fingerprint’ the worker,” Kohn says. “Often, only a small group of workers are aware of the details concerning a regulatory violation.” When a corporate official commences his or her review of the complaint, “it is often not difficult for the employer to figure out the identity of the whistleblower.”
    Number Two: Don’t Break the Law. Remember, if you are a whistleblower, you are blowing the whistle on the corporate law breakers. You don’t want to be caught breaking the law while whistleblowing. “This is a basic rule that must be followed,” Kohn says. “If a court determines that an employee broke a criminal law in order to obtain evidence in the case, the employee will suffer a sanction. The case may be dismissed, the employee’s credibility will be attacked, and there may even be a referral for a criminal prosecution.”
    Number One: Follow the Money. According to Kohn, this is the single most important rule. “Four major federal laws provide for the payment of reward to whistleblowers who can prove that their employers committed fraud,” Kohn writes. “These rewards can be large.” I think this translates into – make sure you pick a lawyer who knows what law delivers the most bang for your career – which you are about to flush down the toilet.
    Kohn is executive director of the National Whistleblower Center. For the past 25 years, he’s been in the trenches fighting the whistleblower wars. The lessons learned from those wars have been distilled in this book.
    And he poses two questions to his fellow Americans:
    “If you think your boss may be a crook, if you think there may be safety violations at work, if you think your managers are cheating in tax payments, violating terms of government contracts, committing financial frauds, or violating the law, should you just stay silent?” he asks. “Or should you figure out whether or not you could be a potential whistleblower, and then carefully determine what to do when the boss may be a crook?”
    TAGS: Corporate Crime Reporter, News, Stephen M. Kohn, The Whistleblower’s Handbook, whistleblower”

  4. The truly sad part about all of this – and this comment is directed at “Gator Boy” and any other apologist for her = is the voting record of Tobi Jackson. She came late to the meeting; never read the transcripts, testimony or brief filed by Palazzolo’s attorney, but is so beholding to Judy Needham she seconded the motion. I voted for her and have ABSOLUTELY no intention of supporting her again. She does not think for herself rather, is so caught up in being a “wanna be” she votes anyway Dickerson or Needham ask. Real questions such as Melody’s TRUE income; why we need New Lives (when FWISD does not even mandate pregnant students attend), and the excessive weight of administration, have completely escaped her. She is a disgrace. I for one would like to see each Board member named as co-Defendants in Palazzolo’s new suit. And until the African-American Community has some true leaders step forward, the Black community will continue to decline. Moss and her husband are relics of the past. Judas goats to the likes of Dickerson-Needham-Johnson. How can you expect more when Needham pays your campaign debts, helps your husband, and Johnson gets your son-in-law a job (Sims) in exchange for your vote? Change has to start at the top. It has to start with us.

  5. This is the only comment posted to the Startlegram Blog. It says it all.
    “Why did Judy Needham leave before the hearing? She is supposed to represent the Heights community, not duck out when a situation becomes a little sticky. That old windbag should be voted off the board.”
    But then, what would Tobi Jackson do?

  6. First I will address Judy Needham. While I unsuccessfully challenged Judy Needham in the school board election, I want to share with you: 1. I funded my own campaign. 2. She never appeared in public at forums to defend her record. 3. She would not give interviews. 4. She receives most of her money to campaign from her close “personal” friend Marty Leonard and her friends at TCU. 4. I invite anyone to investigate her so called “fundraising business”…where are you IRS? Her conduct was one of which reflected, I’m a beloved member of the community therefore I can blow off any opponent. Additionally, she has instilled fear into this community by her association with Marty Leonard. No one would dare to represent me as a campaign manager, One has to ask how did she come to weild this type of power. Rumors abound about her personal life. Is she or isn’t she a happily married woman? or in the closet? It is well known she disappears when needed by her constituency. At the beginning of this school year, she and MJ held a rally distributing Starbucks cards to faculty and staff as a favor but how much and where did these funds come from this meager “payoff” to AHHS staff. She lives on the downlow offering no explanation nor has the community the courage to ask her the difficult questions. Even when asked she will not give straight answers. The previous writers are correct when they write about how beholding Moss and Jackson are to her for funding for campaigns or other favors. There ought to be a law preventing this type of vote buying. As to Johnson, Needham recruited her even though her track record in RI was questionable. Johnson’s goal is to get a well paid position with the BROAD Foundation in LA. When you look at the failures she brought to this district…New Lives, the failed computer system affecting staff salaries and now failures to student records, plus her well paid salary plus having the district buying her a house, car (Lexus) plus the under the table bonus annually from TCU and TCC, one has to wonder why the leaders of this community find her so valuable.unless the Chamber fears ceeding power to the Black and Hispanic Chambers along with valuable contracts in Tarrant County. The advice on “whistleblowing” is excellent. However, Mr. Palazzolo believed when he brought forward the fraud at AHHS everyone found out how mean spirited Bertha Whatley and her team of paid goons responded. They obviously felt exposed otherwise why would they dig up material over 20 years old on Mr. Palazzolo which amounted to spit in the scheme of things. They couldn’t even find Mr. Palazzolo’s original application yet paid Mr. Rickman sufficiently to write a false finding of facts to justify Mr. Palazzolo’s termination. Although the board had 10 days to review Rickman’s report and Mr. Smith’s brief before voting on termination. Again, fearing Johnson’s rath. I am not boasting when I declare I have seen the documents proving the fraud committed by Alexander, Boyd, Perry and Cormier. Cormier continues to falsify Pell Grant applications. She is the only staff member who was not placed on administrative leave. Johnson does not deserve to be paid thousands of dollars to serve as Superintendent of FWISD. Dollars which come from our taxpayer system. It is time for a taxpayer revolution. Mr. Palazzolo did nothing wrong in bringing the truth forward to inform the pubic about the fraud, waste and abuse in Johnson’s administration. Even Dickerson is culpable in his support of the fraud. It is a well known fact he was recruited by Needham and other powers in this community to return to Fort Worth to act as President of the Board along with being given a house and perks to rub elbows with TCU and other high rollers in this community. Johnson, Needham and Dickerson do not represent the changing demographics of an urban school district.. In fact they fear the public will finally get wise to their tactics. If the FBI would get involved in investigating FWISD, they would find RICO activity currently being undertaken to protect these old white people discriminating against the minority students in our schools. Anyone interested in stopping the corruption within the Board of Trustees and the administration, UNITE. We can take back our schools to provide our children with a fair, appropriate public education. Let’s give ur children a fair chance at a bright future and Let’s show support to our teachers who are being threatened by an administration who holds the threat of termination over their heads if they speak up. Thank you, Linda LaBeau, RN P.S. FWISD has spent thousands of dollars to hire outside investigators to investigate me, Mr. Palazzolo, and/or anyone associated with Mr. Palazzolo’s case. If FWISD is innocent, why all of this defensive behavior to smear honest people who care about the education of our children. Anyone can file a request for information or OPEN RECORDS REQUEST. Why not find out for yourself the facts surrounding your school district.