Melissa Petro and her lawyer Gloria Allred speak at a press conference at the National Arts Club on Feb. 10, 2011.
Melissa Petro, the former sex-worker-turned-teacher, is resigning rather than face a termination hearing, she announced Thursday.
Accompanied by all-star attorney Gloria Allred, Petro told reporters that she believed she would have won her hearing but decided to "move on." Both Petro and Allred criticized the Department of Education's decision to suspend her, calling it an attack on the teacher's First Amendment rights.
"This is a modern day witch hunt," Allred said. "They ignored the fact that she was a successful and well loved teacher, and focused instead on her speech in writing outside of her job."
In an emailed statement, the department said Petro failed to live up to her obligations.
"People have a right to freedom of speech. But we expect our teachers to remember their obligations as public employees and role models to children," the statement said.
The 30-year-old former teacher came under fire last September after writing a feature for the Huffington Post titled "Thoughts From a Former Craigslist Sex Worker," detailing her time as a prostitute before accepting a job teaching at P.S. 70 in the Bronx. In the post, she described herself as "sexually uninhibited, looking to make a little money while having a little fun." In December, Mayor Bloomberg publicly called for Petro's termination.
Petro believes her writing was protected speech, and that her private opinions should not affect her standing at the school. The Department of Education disagreed. She was charged with conduct "unbecoming of a teacher," and has been on suspension ever since.
Using her real name, Petro blogged for multiple outlets about her time as a sex worker. She says her writing was published on websites aimed at an adult audience.
"I don't think my students can comprehend my work, and if they did they deserve an A," Petro said at the press conference.
Petro said she'd like to pursue a career in social justice, and wants to start a creative writing program for at-risk teens.