Fired for Talking to Newsday, Teacher Says
BROOKLYN (CN) - An elementary school music teacher claims her bosses fired and defamed her for telling a Newsday reporter about how she directed the opening night of a school play, though she fell and broke her leg before the curtain rose.
Rebecca Posteraro, a 3-year veteran of Bellerose Avenue Elementary School on Long Island, summarized the incident in her federal complaint:
"On February 15, 2011, when Ms. Posteraro fell and broke her fibula just prior to the start of the opening-night performance of 'Disney's Cinderella Kids' at the Bellerose Avenue Elementary School, she as a co-director of the show, still directed the children from the start of the production through the end, despite the pain caused by her broken ankle."
Posteraro adds that her principal, defendant Barbara Falotico, "was present, and most importantly, was aware of what had occurred and the daunting task undertaken by Ms. Posteraro. In fact, she called an ambulance and when she realized that it would arrive prior to the end of the production told the emergency operator that she will call back after the performance and not to send the ambulance.
"Subsequently, both Ms. Falotico and Ms. Posteraro were interviewed by a Newsday reporter and on February 20, 2011, an article was published detailing what had occurred and Ms. Posteraro's determination to proceed at great risk to her own health, so that her students could reap the benefits of their hard work."
Posteraro says Falotico and school Superintendent Marylou McDermott interpreted her interview as criticism of the school's failure to insist that she be taken immediately to the hospital, and "caused a determination on the part of principal Falotico and School Superintendent McDermott to deny Ms. Posteraro the tenure she had been assured was forthcoming".
McDermott is also named as a defendant.
When Posteraro returned to work eight days later, she says, Falotico "personally reprimanded [her] for speaking with Newsday," and "warned (her) not to speak again with Newsday or with any other news agency under threat of disciplinary action."
Posteraro claims that on March 30, the school forced her to sign a false teacher evaluation, and sent personnel to monitor her around the building.
"In addition, plaintiff's personnel file has been pilfered and all of the positive documentation has been removed including parent letters, emails, letters of support," the complaint states.
She was fired on May 18, just before the spring concert, and the school immediately revoked her email account, Posteraro says.
She claims Falotico and the district's music administrator, Izzet Mergen, told parents who complained about her firing, "I assure you this is something administration takes very seriously, the removal of a teacher is not something we take lightly, if you knew all the details of the case, you would understand and agree with us."
Posteraro says that statement defamed her.
Mergen is also a defendant.
"The parents understood from that statements plaintiff had committed a serious infraction that justified her sudden removal," the complaint states.
Posteraro says she should not have to give up her First Amendment rights to be a teacher.
"Plaintiff's advocacy was separate and apart from any of her job responsibilities she had as a teacher but as citizen opining to the press regarding matters that are of a public concern and interest," the complaint states.
She sued Northport-East Northport Union Free School District, McDermott, Falotico and Mergen. She seeks damages for constitutional violations and defamation.
She is represented by Stewart Lee Karlin.
(Legal or not, teachers with long experience in public schools say it is not unusual for administrators to order them not to speak about specific subjects, even outside of school, and not to talk to the press.)