A high school English teacher in Fort Worth, Texas, may be allowed to return to her job after being fired in June for tweeting to Donald Trump and asking for his help in getting rid of “illegal students” at her school.
The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports in response to Georgia Clark’s appeal of her termination, Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath ruled that the school district could either reinstate Clark—giving her back pay and the employment benefits she would have been entitled to, had her contract been renewed—or pay her one year of salary in lieu of reinstatement.
Barbara Griffith, a spokeswoman for the school district, told the Star-Telegram, “It appears the commissioner ruled the way he did based on a technicality and we are exploring all of our options. This is all we are going to say right now as we have not yet had a chance to review and analyze the entire decision.”
As Senior Editor Stephen A. Crockett Jr., previously reported on The Root, in May, Clark used her personal Twitter account to tweet to Donald Trump and ask if he could help with “illegal students” at her school.
“Mr. President, Fort Worth Independent School District is loaded with illegal students from Mexico,” she wrote on May 17, on her now-deleted Twitter account, @Rebecca1939. “Anything you can do to remove the illegals from Fort Worth would be greatly appreciated.”
She also asked Trump to help protect her identity if she were to report said “illegal students” to the authorities as she didn’t want any “recrimination” from her actions.
At the time, Clark told the Washington Post that she did not realize the tweets were public. She thought they were private between herself and the president.
According to the Post, Clark had a history of questionable “violations — including insulting her students’ ethnicity. Even before the tweets came to light, the district was already investigating separate allegations of derogatory remarks from Clark in the classroom.”
Clark was terminated by the district in June, and the district voted unanimously in September to uphold that decision.
When she was fired in June, Clark argued that the tweets were protected by her First Amendment rights. Morath agreed with her on Monday when he made his ruling.
The school district has announced it would appeal the TEA decision within the next 20 days. Once the appeal is filed, the TEA will have 45 days to render a decision. After that, the only recourse for either side would be a lawsuit in district court according to the Star-Telegram.
The district argued that Clark waived her First Amendment rights when she signed her employment contract, but Morath disagreed.
From the Star-Telegram:
The school district, Morath’s ruling said, “is mistaken.”
Clark’s contract “does not waive her right to contact, outside of the workday, elected officials concerning matters they have jurisdiction over,” the ruling stated. “But while teachers retain free speech rights, these rights are not unlimited.”
Morath noted that a school board is required to make decisions that include “findings of fact and conclusions of law.” While the Fort Worth district rejected conclusions of law found by the independent examiner, it didn’t propose any new ones.
“If a school board wants to change conclusions of law, the school board needs to actually draft new or changed conclusions of law and to provide a real explanation of the change,” the ruling states.
In the end, Clark was under contract with the Fort Worth school district and the district fired her because of her tweets to the president. Clark argued that her tweets are protected by the First Amendment, according to the ruling.