A teacher in Texas says he was targeted for firing because he's gay, but the school district claims, without providing specifics, that it's because he sent an inapprpropriate text to a student.
Dr. Josh Hamilton has been teaching professional communications and college readiness for three years at Grapevine High School in Texas. He also coached speech teams that won state and national championships. According to The Star-Telegram, Hamilton was helping students prepare for a speech competition hosted at the school in September when he talked about being openly gay. He meant it as a motivational speech, he says, describing his struggles with mental health issues and how he emerged happily as a gay man.
"I was like heck, you guys watched me struggle for years through my own mental health battles, because that what it was, and come out on the other side of that has a happy functioning gay man," he told KXAS news.
The next day, he says, school officials called him in for questioning about what he shared with the students, and asked to review his cellphone use. He turned the phone over, saying he had "nothing to hide."
Following that, he was placed on administrative leave. This week, Grapevine-Colleyville ISD board members voted unanimously fire him for violating the district's texting policy. The policy prohibits employees from communicating with students via personal accounts.
At a school board meeting, human resources executive director Gema Padgett said, "Dr. Hamilton violated the standards by developing inappropriate relationships with students, providing inappropriate information to the students concerning his personal life, through text messages, treating students as family members or close friends and providing inappropriate personal information to the students."
The district has not elaborated on what Hamilton is alleged to have said in the text messages.
For his part, Hamilton says, he sent text messages to a student who babysat his son, but says there was nothing inappropriate about the communications.
According to a statement from Kristin Snively, a spokesperson for the school district, "Mr. Hamilton's sexual orientation has absolutely nothing to do with the reason Mr. Hamilton has been proposed for termination." She added that the firing was due to "violations of the District's electronic communications policy, violations of student privacy, failure to follow written directives, and violations of the Texas Educator's Code of Ethics."
Hamilton says he'll appeal the decision to the Texas Education Agency, which would entitle him to a due process hearing. His hope is that he can retain his teaching job.
"Sitting in the board room and hearing her use the word 'inappropriate, inappropriate, inappropriate' painted me to the public as a child predator," Hamilton said. "This has been the worst experience of my life."