Dr. Josh Hamilton teaches professional communications and college readiness at Grapevine High School near Fort Worth, Texas.
He is also the coach for the school’s competitive speech team that won state and national championships last year.
But the school district he works for recently fired him saying he texted inappropriate messages to a student. Hamilton says the trouble started the day after he mentioned being gay to his speech team.
During preparation on September 5, 2019, for an upcoming oral interpretation tournament, Hamilton felt his team was distracted by personal issues instead of the topic at hand.
“Guys, I get it,” Hamilton told the students in an attempt to motivate them. “We all have something going on. Heck, you all watched me struggle last year with my mental health and met me this year on the other side as a happy, open and honest gay man.”
“So, I get it life is hard,” added the PhD. “Let’s put that to the side and get our work done.”
The next day he was called into Human Resources where he says he was asked about his communication with students, did he text them, and what was the content?
Hamilton said he did text some students as the team coach and in the context that one of the students handled babysitting chores for him.
Finally, the HR representative asked, “Josh, have you told the students anything about your personal life changes in the last month?”
Hamilton says his response was as straight-forward as he could make it.
“Are you asking if the kids know that I am gay?” he told the representative. “Sure, just like they know that I was married, I have kids and travel each day from Fort Worth, sure they do its part of my life.”
He was placed on administrative leave at that time pending an investigation into whether he ‘shared too much information’ with his students.
That was a Friday. On Monday, he was told by the HR persona, “Josh, we have done our investigation and decided we are no longer going to continue employment.”
Hamilton says he was given no due process nor provided with any evidence.
When he asked to see the text messages the school insisted he was being dismissed for, he was told, “No, we need to protect the privacy of the student.”
After hiring a lawyer, who asked for the text messages in question to be forwarded pending legal action, the school stopped communicating.
A few days later, he was finally allowed to review the text messages that the school says are the basis for his firing.
The messages were with a student who regularly took care of Hamilton’s young son, Jackson.
Hamilton says the topics in the 8 text messages ranged from his son to separating from his wife to his new dating life. The instructor says the student was babysitting when he would go on dates, so the issue came up.
“If we’re going to fire a teacher for texting a kid, we’re going to fire a lot of teachers in Texas,” Hamilton told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
And he insists none of the messages have ever been inappropriate.
The student’s parents didn’t see it that way.
At a meeting this week of the Grapevine-Colleyville Independent School District, board members voted unanimously to fire Hamilton due to the District’s policy on texting students.
During the 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.”
Hamilton told the local NBC News affiliate NBC DFW, “Sitting in the board room and hearing her use the word inappropriate, inappropriate, inappropriate painted me to the public as a child predator. This has been the worst experience of my life.”
But the school district, contending Hamilton’s firing was not because he is gay, issued this statement:
“Mr. Hamilton has been proposed for termination for good cause 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. In GCISD, we hold all employees to high standards for their interactions with our most important people, our students. His conduct is not acceptable for an educator in GCISD.”
Hamilton plans to appeal the decision to the Texas Education Agency, which would provide a due process hearing. He says he hopes to retain his teaching position.
The state of Texas has no legal protections on the books prohibiting discrimination against LGBTQ people in the workplace.