Sunday, December 1, 2019

TX: Bigotry In The Classroom

This is a troubling story, for several reasons.

Georgia Clark was an English teacher in the Fort Worth Independent School District, a district with over 80% Hispanic student population. Clark sent a message to Donald Trump, asking him to do something about all the illegal [sic] immigrant students. Her request included charming lines like "anything you can do to remove the illegals from Fort Worth would be greatly appreciated" and a request for "help reporting illegals in the Fort Worth public school system" and even a complaint that "the Mexicans refuse to honor our flag."

But it turns out that Clark is a little fuzzy on how to work the electric tweeter machine, and posted her various complaints as regular tweet and not direct messages, and that's where her latest troubles began. So her request for protection so that she could make her requests anonymously was, well, not so useful.

FWISD had reportedly already had Clark on their radar for not-entirely-supportive language used with students; she was apparently almost fired in 2013. This blew up in the community, and the district made the obvious call-- they put her on leave immediately, then fired her.

Clark didn't want to go, so she appealed the firing, and last week, Texas Education Agency commissioner Mike Morath ordered that she be reinstated, with back pay.

The FWISD board is appealing, and took a symbolic revote just to be clear that they really mean it, and again unanimously canned Clark. The board says that they believe the state's ruling is based on a procedural technicality, but the conclusion of the state's report also says  

Clark’s Twitters were a private citizen’s free speech about a matter of public concern and was privileged and does not establish good cause for termination.

Free speech? Yes, freedom of speech has to protect odious opinions, or it's not really freedom. And yes, we want the freedom of teacher speech to be absolutely protected. But this a whole other level.

She hasn't just expressed an ugly opinion. She has taken action against her own students. She has made her own classroom an actively unsafe place. This is not just an exercise of free speech any more than if she started whacking her students with a two-by-four. It is impossible to imagine how students could ever feel safe in her classroom again-- this is a woman who asked the President of the United States to come drag some of her students out of her classroom and throw them out of the country. Georgia Clark should never work in a school again. It's shocking that Mike Morath doesn't get that.

After all, there are fifth grade girls in Utah who figured it out. In more encouraging news this week, three girls left a classroom to get an administrator to remove a substitute teacher who had decided to launch an endless rant against a student who dared to say he was thankful that his two dads were going to adopt him. The teacher was shown the door immediately (still reportedly trying to expand on her anti-gay rant). The boy never should have had to go through the experience, but at least the people around him knew how to react.

Look. Different teachers bring different values into the classroom, ranging from the mildly edgy to the horrifically indefensible. But if your primary value is not the safety and nurturing of those students, over and above whatever other beliefs you have, you don't belong in the class. And if your beliefs are so antithetical to valuing all human beings, then you don't belong in the classroom. Texas got this one wrong.

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