Melissa Petro, a New York City Public Schools teacher reassigned last week after officials discovered that she was once a prostitute, has found out that some will hold your past against you. Earlier this month, she wrote an opinion piece in the Huffington Post condemning Craigslist for shutting down its adult services section and admitting that she once used Craigslist to sell herself for money. The open admission brought her attention, then reassignment as the school system began looking into her record, her life, her past. The result has become a New York City scandal and an administrative nightmare.
“I wrote my own ads, screened my own prospective dates,” she wrote in the Post on September 7, “decided on my own what I would and would not do for money, and – best of all – I kept every penny I earned.”
Melissa Petro says she never worked as a prostitute while employed by the New York City Public Schools system. However, according to WCBS in New York, Petro was listed on a website as a presenter at a sex workers conference just months before she was hired as a teacher. She has taught art for kindergarten through fifth grade at PS 70 in the Bronx for three years.
Petro also said in her article that she was graduate student, “curious and sexually uninhibited” when she placed ads on Craigslist and took money in exchange for sexual services. But she gave up prostitution after a few months because it was “physically demanding, emotionally taxing and spiritually bankrupting.” She managed to keep her working girl status secret from family, friends, and, eventually, faculty — that is, until she decided to condemn Craigslist for discontinuing its “adult services” section.
The 30-year-old teacher was reassigned Monday to administrative duty after school officials discovered her past. But those same officials have found themselves in somewhat of a dilemma. Melissa Petro is a tenured teacher, which makes her dismissal or separation from the school system far more difficult.
Reactions from the parents of students have been varied. According to WCBS, some believe Melissa Petro shouldn’t be allowed to teach at all while others seem to think that her past shouldn’t be held against her.
Still, Melissa Petro knew she was taking a risk by writing the Huffington Post article. “I hope to never again make the choice to trade sex for cash even as I risk my current job and social standing to speak out for an individual’s right to do so.”
But she insists that “free thinking, entrepreneurial human beings with choices and responsibilities” like herself should have the right to conduct sexual commerce, notes that Craigslist.org was doing nothing illicit by providing the forum, and that prostitution’s victims (those that are forced into a sex worker’s way of life by environment, economics, and/or physical coercion) deserve protection rather than prosecution.
The Department of Education would not comment on the case but said it was under review by the head of the Office of Special Investigations, Richard Condon.