Teacher Resigns after Blogging about Being a Former Sex Worker

By KAITLYN MEADE

When Melissa Petro wrote on the Huffington Post’s blog about being a former call girl, she knew that it might cost her job as a school teacher. Last Thursday, that fear became a reality as she announced her resignation from the elementary school P.S. 70 in the Bronx after New York City’s Department of Education began a process to remove her from the classroom. Instead of fighting the measures in court, Ms. Petro decided to resign, signing a deal with the D.O.E. that takes full effect in April.

“I was surprised and disappointed by the D.O.E.’s response. They could have stood behind me,” she said at Thursday’s press conference.

Yet she admitted she was aware of how the D.O.E. might react because her blog post includes, “I risk my current job and social standing to speak out…” While the Huffington Post is not frequented by her students, and her views were never brought up in the classroom, the precarious balance between teacher and writer suffered nonetheless.

Gloria Allred, who functioned as attorney and more practically as press secretary to Ms. Petro, in hyperbolic tones, called the D.O.E.’s reaction a “modern day witch hunt.” She asserted that it “appeared to smack of retaliation against Melissa because she decided to assert her views outside the classroom.”

However, the Department of Education released a brief statement after the press conference by e-mail, saying that everyone has a right to free speech but that Ms. Petro engaged in conduct unbecoming to her profession. They could not be reached for further comment.

Ms. Petro said that they were aware of her background when they hired her and that it had never been a problem before. “My writing existed long before I became a teacher. I write for adults on sites that are meant for adults,” Ms Petro said, a theme that was echoed throughout her answers.

As a teacher, controversy is bad for business but for a writer and artist, it spawns awareness of her work. The press, while upholding her right to write, also generates publicity for Ms. Petro that might be an additional bonus to her career. Her decision to resign is a step forward, she argued, rather than a capitulation. Though she will never be able to seek employment with the public school system again, the deal will allow her to focus on developing a creative writing program for teens at risk of exploitation. On asked how she plans to develop this program she had “no comment.”

TJ Walker, a professional in media relations and public speaking, offered some perspective on her outlook.“You need a few things to get funding. One do you have media coverage? Do you have a good website? Do you have supporters?” he said.

However, he was skeptical about her ability to generate the necessary resources. “You need credibility. It is going to make a lot harder to raise money if [scandal] is the only thing people know about you.”

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Dog days are not over

by Katharine Ulrich

She is an old-school glamour queen, posing with the grace and haughtiness one would expect of a veteran pageant winner. Despite her age, Schminky, as her loved ones affectionately know her, is curiously energetic. Her warm brown eyes peer out at me from behind her wispy white bangs as she reclines on the dark leather couch of the Hotel Pennsylvania on a sunny February day. Suddenly, a man with a headset and clipboard shouts out her name, and there’s a dull clack-clack-clack on the beige tile as Champion Los Perritos Covered in Fur prances over to pose for her headshot for the 135th Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.

“This is her big opportunity. Schminky hasn’t been in the ring for nine years,” said Kris Glen, her owner. “This will be the first time I’m seeing her show. She’s been neutered, so she can only show in the Veteran’s Sweepstakes, but we know she will win. Just look at her!”

Schminky, a 13-year-old Havanese from the Upper West Side, spent seven hours in the doggy spa and walked on the Jog-a-Dog treadmill, both services provided by the hotel. Most of the pets prep and preen at the Hotel Pennsylvania, located just across the street from Madison Square Garden, in the days prior to the big event. Just ask Jerry Grymek, the man serving as the head of Pooch Relations as “Doggy Concierge.”

“We offer the most services for dogs. Year-round our hotel is pet-friendly, but for the show, we begin prepping months before the competition,” said Grymek. “We have a whole team. These dogs are treated like celebrities, because in reality, they are. They’re the best of their breed.”

These celeb-worthy services, available to anyone staying in the hotel, include a people and pet psychic, treadmills, a Jacuzzi, a full beauty salon, an indoor bathroom area, a masseuse, and numerous vendors for last-minute items, from organic dog food to bedazzled collars.

Come February 14 and 15, 2,500 canines will compete in the show to be aired on USA Network. The gathering and photo shoot on Thursday served as a press event, not that America’s second largest, continuously held sporting event needed it, as evidenced by the numerous observers idling around the lobby.

“I’m just a big dog lover. I’ve only ever seen the show on TV, but this year my boyfriend [got me tickets],” said Erica Rojas, a spectator. “I love talking to different people about the different breeds. These people really love their dogs.”

How do people even become owners of a Westminster dog show contestant? “Sweet story, actually,” says Glen, Schminky’s owner. “I met Schminky through Lynn Miedo, basically the mother of the Havanese breed in America, and she had already had four litters. All of a sudden Lynn wouldn’t give her up – she just loved her too much. But I persisted. For a year we went back and forth, until my granddaughter had her fourth birthday party and she made a huge banner, glitter and everything, that said ‘Schminky belongs in the Big Apple!’ We sent it to Lynn, and a week later, she arrived.” Glen glances down lovingly at Schminky, smugly even, like she shares the dog’s accomplishments. “And now we are here.”