A former public school teacher who was axed by the Department of Education after her fifth grade students said she made them give her massages, among other things, is suing the city in hopes of getting her name removed from a blacklist prohibiting her from working at city-funded children's programs.
In 2008, Monica Johnson—then a teacher at PS 123 in Harlem—was fired after investigators with the DOE found in 2006 she'd been making young girls in her class "rub lotion on her legs and feet and comb her hair during instruction time." She also allegedly called a student a "liar and a thief" and threw something at him in 2005 and grabbed a student "by the neck and hit him in the head" in 2004, according to DOE documents.
Johnson was terminated and found work in the private sector. But last year the social services group University Settlement offered her a job that would involve working with children; the group is a DOE vendor, and when the department caught wind of her application the offer was rescinded. "The nature of your professional misconduct, in addition to the exploitation of your position within the department, causes grave concern when considering your application for security clearance to work with a DOE-contracted vendor," school officials wrote her in a letter.
Johnson, now 49, says she should be reconsidered. "They’re looking at the past. I have learned from my mistakes," she told the Post, adding that she had a health condition that gave her inflamed limbs, hence the massages. "The kids, they saw that I was trying to do something to rub my own legs and I guess they felt sorry for me and they tried to help me," she said.
She also claims she never called a student names, and that she never grabbed a student, just "tapped" one. She told the Daily News she was suffering from a number of personal issues at the time of her firing, including that she was misdiagnosed with cancer and ended up homeless.
Though the Department of Education did not immediately respond to Gothamist's request for comment, a spokesperson with the DOE told the News, "Ms. Johnson’s behavior was inappropriate and completely unacceptable, and she is no longer eligible to work in our schools."
A Law Department spokeswoman told Gothamist, "We will review the lawsuit."