For the past few years, Melissa Petro has been teaching art at P.S. 70 in the Bronx—and more recently, she's been writing about her past as a former sex worker in various publications. Earlier this month, she wrote on the Huffington Post, "From October 2006 to January 2007 I accepted money in exchange for sexual services I provided to men I met online in what was then called the 'erotic services' section of Craigslist.org." Now, the Department of Education has reassigned her during its investigation as P.S. 70 parents say things like "She's not a good role model."
That mother also tells the Post, "I do not want my daughters to find out about this and I do not want my daughters to be around that kind of person," while another says, "I don't want nobody that used to do that to be around my kid. People like that should not be allowed to be anywhere near children."
Petro, who has a MFA in creative nonfiction from the New School, wrote on The Rumpus over the summer about being a stripper in Mexico (she didn't mention the Craigslist sexual services work) and how her past was catching up with her present, thanks to the Internet:
I recently had the experience at my job of being warned by a colleague that other coworkers have begun Googling me. The concern is that I’m an elementary school teacher (teaching art/creative writing at a public school in the South Bronx) as well as a writer, and my writing- at least that which has been published and is therefore “Google-able”- is primarily about my experiences as a sex worker, which occurred some time prior to my becoming a teacher.
Since becoming a teacher I have known- hoped, even- that this would be a conversation I’d someday be compelled to have, and while I’ve done nothing at work to encourage such controversy, as a writer and an activist, not to mention former stripper, I’ve never been one to shy away from publicity. I welcome this debate in particular, not only because it explores issues of freedom of speech and the rights of workers to live self-determined lives outside of the workplace, but because, ultimately, here is another opportunity to call into the light the persistent and erroneous insinuation that once a prostitute always a whore- not “whore” in the pro-industry reclamative sense of the word but in its opposite, everything society has told me I am from the moment I first bared my breasts at a tit club, if not before...
...This article is not—not yet, at least— in defense of my job. I also realize it is a not a question of whether an individual can, at one time, have been a sex worker and, today, be a teacher. The reality is that a person can, as I have served at my current position competently for a nearly three years. For me, it is a question of whether society is ready to adapt their schema to accommodate our reality.
It would be better, I suspect, if I were ashamed.
In an off the record conversation, a sympathetic administrator kindly asked if I couldn’t publish under a pseudonym. I wish, for her sake, I could. But for sake of the rights and integrity of myself and every other man or woman who makes or has made choices similar to mine, and then tries to make sense of these choices, I cannot. I learned along the way that “you are only as sick as your secrets.” My writing and performing my work has been my salvation. I wrote myself out of the hell of secrecy and into the body of the woman I am today, capable of making meaning of myself and my experience— more than qualified to manage a classroom and teach kids about art but also, like anyone else, to be more than just my job.