Former Texas Border School Superintendent Sues for Alleged Wrongful Decertification

A former Texas border school district superintendent filed a lawsuit late last week alleging the State wrongfully stripped him of three administrative credentials following his 2016 resignation and job reassignment.

Joel Trigo, Jr., the previous top administrator at the Rio Grande City Consolidated Independent School District, sued the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and Mike Morath, in his capacity as education commissioner, in Travis County, after the State revoked the longtime educator’s certificates for mid-management, superintendent, and supervisor in October 2017.

This followed an investigation triggered by Trigo’s late disclosures to the State Board of Education Certification (SBEC) about two teachers who were fired over purported improper behavior with students.

In December 2014, Rio Grande City CISD trustees appointed Trigo, a high school principal for the district, as interim superintendent. They made the position permanent in February 2015. Shortly thereafter, Trigo suspended a female teacher, accused of kissing a student, while the district conducted an investigation. However, when Trigo fired that teacher in May 2015, he notified the school district’s police department and the Starr County District Attorney’s office but not the SBEC. They learned of the termination from a Starr County investigator, which was out of compliance with agency policies.

The Monitor reported the lawsuit argued Trigo did not act with ill intent, but out of a lack of knowledge. “Plaintiff’s actions were entirely unintentional as he was unaware of the SBEC notification requirement.” It added: “The evidence showed that Plaintiff did not intend to cover up or conceal the incident.”

Trigo learned the reporting requirements. “After the investigation began, Plaintiff also helped RGCCISD create a corrective action plan and created a reporting form to ensure proper reporting in the future.”

Subsequently, Trigo reported a male teacher, previously accused of hitting a student in the head, noted the Rio Grande Valley newspaper. Because of a lack of evidence, the district did not terminate the teacher but transferred him to another school. Later, new allegations arose he made inappropriate comments about a student’s weight. The teacher resigned in December 2015.

In April 2016, Trigo learned the TEA intended to revoke his certificates. A month later, the school board met for a special session where Trigo resigned. KGBT reported he stated: “After meditation and deep evaluation of my priorities at this time in my life, I’ve decided to step down and offer my services to the district in a different capacity.”

Eduardo Ramirez. board vice president, called Trigo’s resignation “personal in nature” and “voluntary,” regardless of what “people might think.”

Trustees then voted to reassign Trigo to serve as director of the student services department, which handles matters like pre-registration, attendance, the district’s special education 504 program, safety/risk management, and worker’s compensation cases.

In January 2017, Trigo filed an Answer and Affirmative Defenses pleading mistake of law, fraudulent inducement and substantial compliance with law due to having reported the incident to district police, noted the RGV newspaper. In October, he received the SBEC’s final notification they revoked his certificates.

“Staff contends that Mr. Trigo violated provisions of the Educator’s Code of Ethics and is unworthy to instruct or supervise the youth of this state because he failed to timely report the termination or resignation of two teachers,” the TEA stated in its proposal for decision.

Chapter 247 of the Texas Administrative Code outlines five pages of educator ethics policies enforced by the SBEC. Chapter 249 lists hearing disciplinary procedures.

The Monitor noted the TEA denied Trigo’s request for production of discovery documents to prove some of his allegations plus protective orders for several witnesses called into testify.

“As such, Plaintiff was denied the opportunity to conduct a meaningful discovery and defend himself to the extent required by law,” the lawsuit stated. “Defendant’s actions violated Plaintiff’s substantive due process rights.”

Through legal action, Trigo seeks reinstatement of his educator certificates and relief “either at law or in equity.”

Breitbart Texas attempted to reach Trigo’s attorney, Miguel Saldaña, at the Rio Grande Valley offices of Walsh Gallegos for comment but he did not return our call before press time. A TEA spokeswoman told Breitbart Texas the agency cannot comment on pending lawsuits.

Follow Merrill Hope, a member of the original Breitbart Texas team, on Twitter.


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