Herman: Judge ponders whether Hooters is school trip appropriate


Once again (and this makes twice, as far as I know), Your State Government is wrestling with a particular existential issue of our day.

This is no less than a real-time review of something sociologists, psychologists, archaeologists and all kinds of ologists someday will somehow make a living studying.

It is this: What’s the deal with Hooters?

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In November, I told you how a state administrative law judge got involved in whether downtown Fort Worth is a fit place for an eatery in which the wait staff uniforms are a key marketing feature. The judge in that case determined he could not find “that the Hooters Girl uniform violates the public sense of decency.”

Now another administrative law judge confronts a Hooters question: specifically the impact Hooters might have on impressionable young minds (and eyes). This is the kind of issue government must confront if we harbor any reasonable hope of making America great again.

The question is in a State Office of Administrative Hearings case called Texas Education Agency, Educator Leadership and Quality Division v. Alonzo Travis Miller Jr., a former employee in the Latexo school district, near Crockett in East Texas. Section B of the judge’s proposed ruling is called “2010 Latexo ISD Cross-Country Trip Ending At A Hooters Restaurant.”

The trip didn’t actually end there, but Miller’s employment at Latexo, where he was a special education teacher, track coach and bus driver, kind of did. He resigned under fire the day after that trip.

The case is TEA’s effort to revoke Miller’s teaching certificate for a variety of reasons, including “allowing students to visit a Hooters restaurant while under his supervision.”

Back on Nov. 10, 2010, Miller drove a Latexo cross country team to a meet, according to the judge’s report in recounting TEA evidence at the December 2016 hearing. (Why cross country teams can’t just run to meets is something I’ve never understood.) Anyway, en route home from the meet, Miller pulled the school vehicle into a Black-Eyed Pea restaurant in Humble, just north of Houston and near a Hooters.

“While there,” Judge Fernando Rodriguez’s report says, “Mr. Miller allowed team members in their school uniforms to go next door to the Hooters restaurant for dinner. Later, after Mr. Miller had finished dinner, he walked to Hooters with the other team members who had followed him into the Black-Eyed Pea.”

And then, as it often does these days, Facebook happened.

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Don Elsom, who was the Latexo superintendent in 2010, testified that school board members showed him Facebook-posted photos of Latexo cross country kids with Hooters waitresses.

Elsom branded Hooters as “a restaurant that objectifies women and that’s not something Latexo ISD should be associated with. … I pointed out that he had parked the school vehicle with the school name on the side in the parking lot of the restaurant and that was a lack of reasonable judgment.”

At the hearing, Miller credited (blamed?) parents and grandparents for the Hooters dining decision. He said he had parked the school vehicle between Black-Eyed Pea and Hooters and only went to the latter to retrieve the kids who had gone there with family.

(I’m guessing these were families who, thanks to my column back in November, were aware an administrative law judge had decided the Hooters waitresses abbreviated garb did not violate the public sense of decency.)

The judge in this case said there’s no doubt some Latexo kids went to Hooters and that photos wound up online. We’re left in the dark as to who posted them. At issue, the judge wrote, is the differing stories about who took the kids to Hooters and whether Miller’s story about parents and grandparents was an ex post facto one he conjured up. Elsom’s version was deemed “more credible” by the judge.

“Furthermore, Mr. Elsom testified that the students were Mr. Miller’s responsibility and they should never have been allowed to go to Hooters, with or without a parental escort, particularly when the school’s vehicle was parked in plain sight and the team members were in uniform,” Rodriguez wrote.

Yes, but put yourself in Miller’s place when a kid says, “Aw c’mon coach. Grandma really loves Hooters’ wings. And who knows how long she has to live.” Puts a whole new perspective on it, right? Nevertheless (and maybe because there’s no evidence that happened), Rodriguez agreed with Elsom that the whole thing was a bad idea:

“An experienced teacher/coach driving a school bus to and from a sporting event should reasonably be expected to know that allowing uniformed Latexo ISD cross country team members to enter a Hooters restaurant (with or without parental supervision) would not reflect well on the Latexo ISD.”

Maybe. Maybe not. I could see a kid in the nearby and appropriately named Lovelady school district getting word about the Hooters visit and telling his parents, “Hey, I hear good things about the Latexo schools. Can we move?”

Rodriguez concluded Miller violated the “morally fit” provision of state law regulating educators. But he also concluded Miller had not violated “written school policy” because Latexo didn’t have one addressing this kind of situation. Lesson to school boards: If you don’t want teachers taking kids to Hooters you should write a policy that says “We don’t want teachers taking kids to Hooters.”

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Before we get to the punishment recommended by Rodriguez, it’s important to note TEA, in seeking revocation of Miller’s teaching certificate, is pointing to a variety of other allegations about Miller, including failing to tell school officials his driver license had been suspended — he claimed he didn’t know it had been — as well as misleading school districts about his previous employment and saying things that made female students feel uncomfortable.

It’s also important to note that while this is about a teacher who hopped (voluntarily, he claims) from district to district after getting in varying degrees of difficulty, this is not a case of the appallingly all-too-common incidences of teachers having improper physical contact with students.

According to the judge’s report, Miller’s record shows that in a 27-year career at 17 school districts, he had been placed on administrative leave eight times and reprimanded seven times. In a brief, Miller’s lawyers said he’d never been terminated “but has resigned and moved on for various reasons.”

Overall, TEA accused Miller of failing “to be of good moral character” and of “being unworthy to instruct or supervise the youth of this state.”

Miller’s lawyer, claiming there is “much smoke and very little fire in this complaint,” argued in a brief that the fact he kept getting school jobs is evidence he is worthy.

The bottom line is Rodriguez has recommended a two-year suspension of Miller’s teaching certificate instead of the revocation sought by TEA officials.

“A two-year suspension would serve to impress on Mr. Miller the importance of following rules and regulations, and using mature judgment when dealing with students,” Rodriguez wrote.

The recommendation now is on the agenda for a June decision by the State Board for Educator Certification.



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