By Amanda Arizola, Aidée Granados and Olga Martinez Hickman
Earlier this month, the Fort Worth Independent School District (FWISD) unanimously voted to fire veteran teacher Georgia Clark, after she sent anti-immigrant tweets to President Trump. While the school district’s policy states that employees can be terminated when the use of electronic media interferes with an employee’s performance, the teacher’s hateful rhetoric caused an uproar in the community.
As educators and education policy advocates, we applaud the Board’s swift actions. As Kent P. Scribner, superintendent of schools, put it, Clark’s “comments were hurtful, irresponsible, misleading and distrustful to the students she is supposed to protect and educate.”
However, we believe that additional steps must be taken, not just in Texas but around the country, so other teachers never again abuse the precious title of educator.
It’s worth noting that wasn’t the first time Clark, a 20-year teacher at a predominantly Latino high school, exhibited hate speech. Previous allegations, including referring to a group of students as “Little Mexico,” caused Clark to be disciplined in 2013. This, in a city where some 35% of residents identify as Hispanic or Latino, according to the 2018 Census. This, in a school district where 67% of the student population is Hispanic. In this community, particularly, why did Ms. Clark believe it was okay to send a tweet to President Trump, asking for help in “rounding up illegal students?”
Sadly, Clark’s is only one instance of a rise in hateful rhetoric that has taken place since Trump took office. A 2018 poll from Quinnipiac University found that 55% of those polled stated that it is easier to share racist views online since the beginning of the Trump administration. This is especially true of teachers across the nation from New Orleans, Baltimore, and Georgia. In the recent Texas case, the teacher’s defense was not that she was wrong in sending these abhorrent racist social media messages, but rather that she thought they were private messages being sent to Trump.
Besides recommending that teachers like Clark never teach any child, the following changes must be made across districts, cities and the U.S.
Acknowledge the Changed Demographics
Rather than pointing out that demographics in the US are changing, let’s admit they have already changed. The rapid growth of Latinos in Texas indicates America as a whole in the very near future. By 2045, we will have a minority-majority population.
Nevertheless, a 2019 report by the Pew Research Center said that 46% of white Americans are apprehensive about the U.S. becoming a majority nonwhite nation. Teachers and administrators need to teach the population we actually have, instead of dreading changes that in fact, have already arrived.
“Latino” Doesn’t Equate “Illegal”
According to Pew, 94.4% of Latino youth under 18 years olds were born in this country. While 67% of students in FWISD are Hispanic, federal guidelines prohibit K-12 public schools from inquiring about a student’s immigration status. Even if immigration status is known, teachers cannot treat them any different than U.S.-born students.
Begin the Conversation About Race and Ethnicity
Perhaps the reason the Fort Worth school district directors acted so quickly is that they have created a division of Equity and Excellence that aims to provide a safe environment for all, regardless of race, background, or immigration status. School districts across the nation should embrace a similar commitment, ensuring the practice of equity at every level of the organization, including hiring and retaining educators that provide a safe environment for all students—regardless of race, ethnic background, or immigration status.
As public servants, we have always known that it is our responsibility to provide each student with the space to feel comfortable and safe enough to learn at their fullest potential. The message from communities all over the country should be similar to the one spoken loudly in Fort Worth: Remove hatred from our schools.
Amanda Arizola, MBA, MHSM is the Assistant Director of the Dallas Community Tax Centers, a program of Foundation Communities, that provides VITA services to the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. Amanda is a Public Voices Fellow of the OpEd Project.
Aideé Granados is the Founder and CEO of Rosa Es Rojo, Inc., a nonprofit making wellness and cancer prevention accessible for Latino women in North Texas. She is certified as a Health Coach by the Institute of Integrative Nutrition of NY. Aideé is a Dallas Public Voices Fellow of The OpEd Project.
Dr. Olga Martinez Hickman is the Executive director of Bachman Lake Together, a nonprofit organization working to support children in one of Dallas’s most historically underserved neighborhoods. She is a Public Voices fellow of the OpEd Project.