The Waco Independent School District hired a teacher fired in 2015 from Frenship ISD after making racist remarks on social media about segregation.
The remarks by the teacher, Karen Fitzgibbons, were in response to a McKinney police officer’s resignation after a dispute at a swimming pool where video showed the officer wrestle a black girl to the ground. Fitzgibbons in her Facebook post suggested she might support segregation “so they can hurt each other and leave the innocent people alone.”
Fitzgibbons was hired in July as a third-grade elementary school teacher for this academic year at Hillcrest Professional Development School, according to the district.
Though Waco ISD officials say Fitzgibbons was honest and upfront about her previous firing over the racially motivated post, they said the district did not know the full details of the social media post until it was brought to their attention about a month later.
The district learned of the contents of Fitzgibbons’ post on Aug. 16, the day before Meet-the-Teacher night and after hiring interviews, district spokesman Bruce Gietzen said in a press conference Monday afternoon, though he did not say exactly how the district learned of specifics.
Gietzen said people remembered the news about Fitzgibbons’ post when it first happened, but didn’t connect her name as the teacher who wrote it.
“We were aware that Ms. Fitzgibbons applied for a job with the district and was completely truthful on that application, and told us she resigned in lieu of termination of another district because of an inappropriate post she made on Facebook that had racial implications,” Gietzen said, adding her previous employers said they were surprised by her Facebook post. “Once the administration learned the contents of that Facebook post, we took immediate action.”
A Google search of Fitzgibbons’ name returns several pages of results related to the post and her subsequent termination at Frenship ISD.
Waco ISD’s administration removed Fitzgibbons from campus and reassigned her to a nonteaching position in the administration building, Gietzen said, adding that Fitzgibbons has a good record, other than the Facebook post, and more than a decade’s worth of experience in education.
She will help develop the district’s curriculum, but exactly what Fitzgibbons will do hasn’t been determined, Gietzen said. She did not have contact with children in the classroom and is taking some leave days, he said.
“She stated remorse for what she did then and stated the same thing to us,” Gietzen said, adding that Fitzgibbons interviewed with a number of districts throughout the state. “All she wants to do is teach again, but that’s not going to happen in Waco ISD.”
Fitzgibbons’ post sparked a national debate about racial tensions across the U.S.
In her post, she stated: “I’m going to just go ahead and say it . . . the blacks are the ones causing the problems and this ‘racial tension.’ I guess that’s what happens when you flunk out of school and have no education. I’m sure their parents are just as guilty for not knowing what their kids were doing; or knew it and didn’t care. I’m almost to the point of wanting them all segregated on one side of town so they can hurt each other and leave the innocent people alone. Maybe the 50s and 60s were really on to something. Now, let the bashing of my true and honest opinion begin....GO! #imnotracist #imsickofthemcausingtrouble #itwasagatedcommunity.”
The district doesn’t condone any of the contents made in her post, and teachers must follow district guidelines for social media use, Gietzen said.
Waco ISD is under a signed, written, one-year employment contract with Fitzgibbons, and the district is legally obligated to honor the terms, Gietzen said.
Fitzgibbons will be given sensitivity training by the district during her term and won’t have access to social media while at work.
Because she was truthful when the contract was signed and the district simply didn’t know all the details from the post, legally the district is obligated to pay her, Gietzen said.
When a teacher is hired by the district, they go through the process of applying for the position, the principal screens the applicants and those who make the cut then do a phone or in-person interview.
From there, the person interviews with a hiring committee on campus and then the decision is made to recommend the hire to the human resources office.
In this case, Fitzgibbons was recommended for hire, and Gietzen said the administrative guidelines state the hiring committee is supposed to see all relevant documents before making the recommendation.
It’s unclear if that’s where the process fell apart, but district officials don’t think all of the correct processes were followed and that is being investigated, he said.
“The district is reviewing the implementation of its hiring policies and procedures at both the campus and administration levels,” Waco ISD Superintendent Bonny Cain said in a statement.
Fitzgibbons is expected to be paid a salary between $45,000 and $48,000, though Gietzen did not know the exact amount Monday. When the year is up, Fitzgibbons’ contract with Waco ISD will not be renewed and she will be free to look for a job elsewhere, Gietzen said.
“We regret that this situation happened,” said Amy Mathews-Perez, principal of Hillcrest Professional Development School. “We put a replacement teacher in that classroom before school started, and we are working diligently to permanently fill that position as we speak.”