Teacher fights to change Pittsburgh Public Schools sexual harassment policies

Teacher fights to change Pittsburgh Public Schools sexual harassment policies

PITTSBURGH — A high school teacher is fighting to change Pittsburgh Public Schools’ sexual harassment policy from the inside.

Teacher Sarah May-Stein said she experienced verbal and physical harassment from a male co-teacher last fall, behavior she described as intensifying as the school year went on.

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Since he hasn’t been charged with a crime, we are not identifying the co-teacher.

“When we were alone, and in the classroom, he would rub my arms and shoulders and my hip and butt. He rubbed my butt when I was having a conference with a student,” May-Stein said.

She described the co-teacher as a friend, someone her and two other adults who worked in the classroom were close with.

But that changed as she began to feel more uncomfortable with the man’s actions, especially around some students.

“I thought I would give him the benefit of the doubt with how he acted toward me and our other friends,” May-Stein said. “But when I started noticing how he was acting toward the students, I realized what was happening. We had fallen into this pattern and I was making excuses for him and I couldn’t anymore.”

On October 18, May-Stein and a co-worker filed a complaint against the co-teacher alleging a pattern of sexual harassment. He was placed on paid administrative leave during the investigation.

Nearly five months later, May-Stein received a letter with the results of the investigation, which found her allegations credible.

In the letter, investigators determined the teacher “made inappropriate, sexual comments to you and your co-workers”.

It continued that the co-teacher “engaged in inappropriate physical conduct with you during the workday.”

But the letter didn’t give any detail on discipline, saying only that the district took corrective action.

May-Stein soon learned he was moved to a different school.

“I felt so powerless. I had tried to follow the rules and protect my students and protect myself and my coworkers. It really seemed like the District didn’t care,” May-Stein said.

Frustrated, she shifted her focus to the district’s sexual harassment policy which contains the phrase “sufficiently severe” when determining if sexual harassment occurred.

“The District in this case, like all cases, acted very promptly on the complaint, did a complete investigation and took the steps we believe were appropriate,” said Pittsburgh Public Schools Solicitor Ira Weiss.

He said sexual harassment policies are subjective standards based on federal law.

May-Stein took her complaint directly to the PPS board of directors, which instructed Weiss’ law firm to review the District’s harassment policy.

“We’re going to have this reviewed and we’re going to see if there are any changes that need to be made,” Weiss said.

He doesn’t expect the review to complete until October or November.

May-Stein hopes to change the policy from the inside, so others won’t face what she did.

“I love Pittsburgh Public Schools. I was a student in Pittsburgh Public and it’s really the only district I want to teach in. I really believe that they will do the right thing,” May-Stein said.

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