Former Fort Worth ISD principals are appealing their firings, Texas Education Agency says

Two Fort Worth Independent School District principals who were fired in September by the school board, with no details revealed by officials behind the decision, have filed appeals with the Texas Education Agency.

Agency spokesperson Jake Kobersky confirmed to the Star-Telegram that both Katrina Smith, former Eastern Hills High School principal, and James Garcia, former Diamond Hill-Jarvis High School principal, have sought further review of the decision through the state’s appeal process. The Star-Telegram was directed to file a public information request to receive documents and additional information related to the appeals.

The school board voted on Sept. 26 to terminate Smith and Garcia after discussing their personnel issues in a closed session. The decision came after multiple teachers, students and family members defended Smith’s and Garcia’s leadership during public comment, calling on district officials to reinstate them to their positions. Board members Roxanne Martinez and Tobi Jackson abstained from voting on Smith’s removal, and Martinez also abstained from voting on Garcia’s removal.

Smith and Garcia did not respond to requests for comment on Thursday. Fort Worth ISD officials can’t comment on personnel matters or pending litigation, according to district spokesperson Jessica Becerra.

An independent hearing examiner must conduct a hearing and write a recommendation within 60 calendar days after a request for the hearing was received by TEA, according to the agency website. Parties can agree to extend the deadline for the written recommendation by a maximum of 45 calendar days.

The hearings for Smith and Garcia are private unless they request in writing for it to be public, according to Kobersky. It’s unclear whether hearings have been scheduled, as TEA is “not privy to that information.”

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“Once cases are assigned to an Independent Hearing Examiner, TEA cannot be involved in the case because the educator can appeal the case to the commissioner… TEA will only be notified if the parties agree to the 45-day extension, and then we will receive the final order or recommendation issued by the IHE,” Kobersky told the Star-Telegram via email.

The Star-Telegram had requested documents from Fort Worth ISD related to disciplinary action taken against Smith and Garcia, but the district is holding off their release while seeking an opinion from the Office of the Attorney General. District officials cite state laws that determine evaluation documents of educators to be confidential, in addition to the “pending litigation,” or the appeal process, that shields relevant information from being released while it’s pending.

Both Smith and Garcia have spent more than 20 years as educators in Fort Worth ISD, according to their personnel files obtained by the Star-Telegram. Smith had been principal at Eastern Hills High since 2017, and Garcia had been principal at Diamond Hill-Jarvis High since 2016.

Smith joined the Fort Worth school district in 2001 as a special education department chair and softball and volleyball coach at Polytechnic High, where she stayed for four years before transferring to Metro Opportunity High, records show. She was also a special education department chair there in addition to an assistant principal intern. Her first promotion to principal came in 2013 at Meadowbrook Middle School after she had been assistant principal at Diamond Hill-Jarvis High and Southwest High from 2007 to 2013.

Garcia joined Fort Worth ISD in 1997 as an English II teacher and football and baseball coach at Southwest High, records show. After almost a decade of teaching there and at South Hills High, he became assistant principal at J.P. Elder Middle School in 2006 before being promoted to principal in 2009.

Reference documents for both Smith and Garcia showed positive ratings and remarks from colleagues that vouched for them throughout their careers.