Contact: Gloria Allred
Statement of Melissa Petro
I have decided to resign as a teacher for the New York City Public School system. It was my belief, as well as that of my attorney, that the First Amendment protected my right to publish my experiences and opinions– however controversial– and that I did not waive my rights by becoming a government employee. The Department of Education, however, disagreed.
Although I could have fought my removal I have decided, instead, to move on. Regardless of the outcome of a trial, which I have every reason to believe I would have won, I do not believe I would have ever been welcomed back to the classroom by the Department of Education, and I have no interest in putting myself in places where I am not welcome. All I have ever wanted, for the last three years, was to serve my city as a public school teacher and simultaneously– in my off hours– be the writer that I am and was long before becoming a teacher.
I am disappointed in the DOE’s mistreatment of me. Rather than seeking my termination, they could have defended my right to free speech, defending what was constitutionally right. Instead, they appeared to acquiesce to political pressure brought about by media which was often unfair and left out important facts.
I am proud of the work I did as a teacher. I worked hard before and after school to design an arts curriculum and create an arts-rich environment in a school that formerly had no art teacher at all. I was involved in my school’s community and was respected by my colleagues. I was as positive an influence on my student’s lives as they were on mine. Many people, including the school’s administration, were aware of my writing, and of my past. Neither was ever an issue.
Ultimately, overcoming my past is more important than proving to the DOE or anyone else that I have done so. I grew up in a working poor household and was the product of a broken home. I was the first in my family to go to college. For me, stripping was a means to socioeconomic opportunity. Years later, circumstances would lead me to work as a prostitute. That choice, for me, was a mistake. As I wrote on The Huffington Post, I found prostitution “physically demanding, emotionally taxing and spiritually bankrupting.” While I do not regret what this experience taught me, I wish the pain of that experience on no one. Today my life is filled with happiness and opportunity. I would never choose to return to that lifestyle.
Moving forward, my plan is to pursue a career in social justice. Specifically, my vision is to design and implement a creative writing program for teens at risk for sexual exploitation. Given my experience as a teacher and a writer, not to mention my personal history– which I overcame, in large part, through writing and performing my work– I am looking forward to being of service in this way. My ultimate goal is to expand this program into a drop-in center targeting the same population with a range of services to meet their needs. I want to help these children and am determined to do so.
I thank those who have supported me, including my attorney Stuart Lichten and Attorney Gloria Allred. I asked Ms. Allred to appear with me today. I have appreciated her counsel throughout this ordeal. It has been of great help to me.