Reporting Tony Aiello
NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Melissa Petro said Thursday that she is moving on with her life.
Petro, 30, had been on the job as an art teacher for three years in a Bronx elementary school, making more than $60,000 per year, when her writings about her past life as a stripper and prostitute emerged online last September.
“My writing existed long before I was teaching. I write for adults, I write on sites that speak to adults, I don’t think my students could comprehend my work – and if they did, they deserve an A,” Petro said.
The tenured teacher had been suspended from P.S. 70 in Claremont three weeks after blogging for the Huffington Post. In the article, she criticized Craigslist for shutting down its adults services section, noting that she herself used the website from Oct. 2006 to Jan. 2007 to run ads exchanging sex for cash. Petro was hired by the Department of Education after passing a background check.
1010 WINS Reporter Juliet Papa spoke with Petro.
The last time we saw Melissa Petro, she stayed silent as she ran from the cameras. On Thursday, she traded in her gym shoes for four-inch heels and invited the coverage, reports CBS 2′s Tony Aiello.
“I found prostitution physically demanding, emotionally taxing and spiritually bankrupting,” she said.
Petro held herself up as a victim, unfairly pushed from her job at P.S. 70.
“I understand that there’s a great amount of stigma leveled at women who have experiences like mine,” Petro said.
Petro made no effort to hide her past — speaking at a 2009 event in the Bowery and blogging about it repeatedly over the last five years.
“I was a stripper in Mexico, when I was 19,” she said a video.
Petro said she resigned rather than fight a termination hearing.
Attorney Gloria Allred has taken up Petro’s plight, calling it a witch hunt and arguing it’s a case of free speech.
“Knowing that there’s a risk is not the same as expecting necessarily that government will decide to remove you from the classroom,” Allred said. “We all hope and expect that our government will respect constitutional rights, we know that there is always a risk that they will not.”
“I am disappointed in the DOE’s mistreatment of me,” she said. “Rather than seeking my termination, the could have defended my right to free speech.”
“Everyone has a past, and people should be judged for what they do while they are employed, and not for their past sex life,” attorney Gloria Allred said.
Petro was suspended in September. Weeks later, the city moved to terminate her for conduct unbecoming a teacher.
“We’re just not going to have this woman in front of a class,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said.
Appearing with famed attorney Gloria Allred, one might assume that Melissa Petro was planning a lawsuit – but she’s not. Under the terms of her resignation deal with the city, she can’t sue.
“I was disappointed to resign,” Petro said. “I loved my students, was very proud of the work I did.”
Petro said her teaching days are over, but she still hopes to work with kids. She’s planning a program to assist teenagers at risk of sexual exploitation.
Late Thursday, the Department of Education released a statement saying Petro failed in her obligation to provide a good role model for children, and has no one to blame but herself.