The Fort Worth school district through its attorney, Walsh Anderson, recently filed a petition in the 348th District Court appealing the Commissioner of Education’s order to the board to reinstate former administrator and fired whistleblower Joe Palazzolo to his job as assistant principal at Arlington Heights High School with back pay and benefits. The petition is filed against Palazzolo and education commissioner Robert Scott. No date has been set for trial.
However, the brief the WA lawyers, Sandra Tarski and Robb Decker, filed to support the district’s position that the commissioner erred when he overturned the decision by Texas Education Agency hearing examiner Rick Rickman, who found for the district and upheld Palazzolo’s firing, has at least one remarkable error of fact.
In Rickman’s original decision he turns a Caucasian girl into an African American to prove his and the district’s contention that Palazzolo “implemented disparate disciplinary consequences for some minority students.” That so-called disparate treatment was used as one of the reasons for his firing by former superintendent Melody Johnson and her administrator Sylvia Reyna. Rickman backed the firing one hundred percent, using the treatment of S.S., whom he calls an “African American” to prove the case against Palazzolo. Trouble with that, of course, S.S. is white.
When the error was pointed out to Rickman by this reporter shortly after his decision was released in February, he issued a “corrected” decision that left out the so-called “proof” of disparate treatment since his example was, well, flawed.
However, in their brief to the court, Tarski and Decker, leaving out the details, state that the corrected version was done “for the purpose of correcting a typographical error.”
Some typo. The following are excerpts of what Rickman wrote about the girl in his original decision, based he said, on the sworn testimony of teachers and other witnesses, including the principal. His report on Palazzolo’s alleged “discrimination” against a black student covered three-quarters of a page.
The hearing examiner wrote of an instance of “disrespect, bullying, and unprofessional conduct” by Palazzolo that was “reflected in a January 14, 2010 email” about a “situation that involved student S.S., an African-American.” According to Rickman, S.S., a transfer student, was pulled out of class by Palazzolo and told she was going to fail her freshman year and that she was going to be sent back to her home school. Rickman also wrote of insulting accusations allegedly made by Palazzolo against the girl about her social life, leading, he wrote, “Principal Neta Alexander to conclude that Palazzolo did not work well with African-Americans and was constantly in conflict with them.”
“It is possible,” Rickman said at the time, “that a mistake could have been made.”
The mistake now, says trustee Ann Sutherland, who voted against Palazzolo’s firing, is putting any more money into fighting this case. To date, it is estimated to have cost the district around $300,000. And that doesn’t include the $26,000 the district paid to Rickman for his fee, which was $18,000 over the amount allowed by state law. That overpayment was the basis for the commissioner’s ruling in Palazzolo’s favour, stating that the large overpayment was not only illegal, but it had tainted Rickman’s decision by raising the idea of bribery, even if untrue.