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Investigation Finds Numerous Violations at Arlington Heights HS

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Classrooms bursting at the seams

    A Fort Worth high school may have let a student who did not have enough credits graduate last year, according to a scathing report by the school district.

    The investigation into Arlington Heights High School for the 2009-2010 school year also found that employees violated Texas law, altered student attendance records, allowed students to make up excessive absences by performing menial tasks such as cleaning and dusting and did not refer excessive absences to a truancy court. The report also said investigators uncovered disparate treatment of students because of race, thousands of dollars of missing equipment and an inappropriate relationship between a teacher and an administrator.

    "I think it's important that people understand that the conclusions in the report are being addressed, and that the district is concerned that this type of behavior may have been there in the first place," Fort Worth ISD spokesman Clint Bond said Monday.

    The five-month investigation came after some school employees complained to Fort Worth Independent School District officials.

    Despite the number of violations, the district is not investigating if they also occurred in previous years or if other schools are committing similar violations.

    Shoddy record keeping was the culprit of most of the problems Arlington Heights faced. Of the 33 accusations the district uncovered, at least seven were determined to be unfounded after investigators cross-checked the school's records.

    Based on the investigation, the Fort Worth ISD has started district-wide training to make sure everyone knows the proper district policies, as well as state and federal laws.

    "We believe the school has a wonderful administration at the moment, and they are moving forward with the changes as suggested in the report, and we think it's a good campus," Bond said.

    Two employees resigned and three, including Assistant Principal Joseph Palazzolo, have been placed on administrative leave pending further investigation as a result of the probe.

    According to the report, Palazzolo is a bully and harassed students and employees. The report also accused Palazzolo of punishing minority students more harshly than white students.

    One unidentified teacher wrote, "On many occasions, I have witnessed [Joe Palazzolo's] preference for punishment over discipline, unprofessional treatment of colleagues who have the audacity to question his methods and the disdain he demonstrates for policies with which he disagrees. He is a disruptive force on our campus."

    The teacher also said "military-style punishment is his remedy" in her e-mail. The e-mail offered to provide specific student names and incidents if asked and provided her telephone number to discuss the unorthodox method of discipline -- particularly toward students of color.

    A few teachers, however, liked Palazzolo's strong style, the report states.

    "This does not mitigate the fact that there appears to be an overrepresentation of students of color referred to hearings/conferences for failing to follow [the school code of conduct]," wrote FWISD Chief of Administration Sylvia Reyna, the author of the report.

    In a statement, Palazzolo said the investigation is inaccurate.

    "I reported illegal conduct by district officials, and they turned around and investigated me," he said. "I did nothing that would justify my termination."

    "Although the district is trying to shift focus, it validated some of the conduct I reported," he said in the statement. "What I reported was validated in writing by at least 15 other teachers."

    His attorney, Jason Smith, said the report is "classic whistleblower retaliation."

    The district said the findings of its investigation did not change the school's University Interscholastic League or funding status for the 2009-2010 school year. Arlington Heights' Texas Education Agency status is also unchanged.

    More: Read the report.