A counselor’s Facebook post about a spirit day in which teachers dressed like students at what she called a “high school in the ghetto” is being investigated by Fort Worth ISD.
Administrators declined to answer questions from The Fort Worth Report, but school board member Wallace Bridges said he’d like to see change to the school district’s social media policy in light of what he considers to be a racially inappropriate post.
A “dress like a student” spirit day at O.D. Wyatt High School – where the student body is 56% Hispanic, 37% Black, 4% Asian and 2.7% white – resulted in teachers wearing bonnets, pajamas, blankets, sagging pants and even a fake ankle monitor.
School counselor Keli Pisano posted photos on Facebook with the caption, “Today was an EPIC day at work. If you haven’t been in a high school in the ghetto lately, this is 100% how our students dress.”
She went on to add, “Girls and their hair bonnets…everyone in pajamas, slides, blankets…The first two pics are my fave…one of the coaches are sagging with his grill and Ms. Cook with her Court Ordered Ankle Bracelet. I cannot recall having this much fun at work in forever.”
Pisano declined an interview with the Fort Worth Report.
“I was livid, to say the least,” said Bridges, who represents District 4 where Wyatt is located. “The biggest battle that I’ve had to deal with is getting beyond the stereotypes that people have about certain schools in the community.”
Bridges has long worked as an advocate for youth across Fort Worth.
When the Report received a screenshot of the post, a reporter sent questions to the district.
Fort Worth ISD sent a statement acknowledging the social media post, but declined to answer specific questions.
“We take this matter seriously, and are currently conducting a thorough investigation into the post and the actions associated with it,” Fort Worth ISD spokesperson Claudia Garibay said in a written statement. “The safety and well-being of our students and staff are of utmost importance, and appropriate measures will be taken based on the outcome of our investigation.”
Bridges said Fort Worth ISD administration made him aware of the investigation, saying there was a “racially inappropriate” post on an employee’s Facebook page.
The district employee handbook has some guidelines about using social media, including privacy concerns. Employees are not supposed to share photos obtained while on duty without the approval of their supervisor. The guideline in the handbook refers to privacy concerns.
Some of the privacy concerns the handbooks references are confidentiality of student records, personnel, health records, copyright laws and employees are prohibited from harming others by making false statements about a colleague or the school system. Violating policy can result in employees losing their job.
What do other policies look like?
In Dallas ISD, employee social media policy goes into more detail regarding personal posts than in Fort Worth ISD.
The Dallas ISD employee handbook says: “As role models for the district’s students, employees are responsible for their public conduct, even when they are not acting as district employees. Employees will be held to the same professional standards in their public use of electronic communications as they are for any other public conduct. If an employee wishes to use a social network site or similar media for personal purposes, the employee is responsible for the content on the employee’s page, including content added by the employee, the employee’s friends, or members of the public who can access the employee’s page, and for web links on the employee’s page. The employee is also responsible for maintaining privacy settings appropriate to the content. Employees who maintain social networking sites for their private use should not share that site with students. If an employee posts messages or pictures which diminish the employee’s professionalism or discredits the employee’s capacity to maintain the respect of students and parents, the employee’s ability to effectively perform his or her job will be impaired. This type of material includes, but is not limited to, text or pictures involving hate speech, nudity, obscenity, vulgarity, conduct illegal for a minor, or sexually explicit content. If an employee’s use of electronic communications interferes with the employee’s ability to effectively perform his or her job duties, the employee is subject to disciplinary action, up to and including termination of employment.”
Bridges said he thinks the district needs to re-examine its employee social media policy before a similar incident happens again.
“We’re not trying to take away anybody’s First Amendment rights,” Bridges said. “But there are some things that when you put that kind of information out in terms of your viewpoint of a community and the way you see it, and identifying students as ghetto, or ghetto community, that’s a bit concerning.”
Bridges said he was concerned to see those comments from a school employee because they are directly working with students, he said.
“If I’m a counselor or a teacher with certain views, because that dictates my role and my interaction with them based upon my views,” he said. “We need to address the issue of social media and how it plays in the lives of our staff, today.”
‘The elephant in the room’
Incidents like this could have detrimental effects on the district as it deals with an enrollment decline, Bridges said.
“If I am a parent whose low information, don’t really follow all this stuff, I’ve got to make a decision about high school and I look on that page and I see a teacher saying this is how the students dress, maybe that may not be the school I want to send my kid to,” he said.
Bridges knows that’s probably a small percentage of parents, but he also knows that when it comes to stereotypes, Black and brown communities don’t usually get do-overs, he said.
“When we tell a story, even something in a joke, that tends to be the stamp for life that people have about our communities,” Bridges said.
There are times when Bridges has to defend students from being accused of gang-related activity just for wearing a shirt of a certain color and being from the Southside, he said.
“That’s not who we are,” Bridges said. “I don’t think I’ve ever been more disappointed.”
Kristen Barton is an education reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at email@example.com. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.