Angela DiBattista has been rehired by the McKeesport Area School District after an almost nine-year battle with district officials.
The district suspended Ms. DiBattista without pay in January 2006, when she was a fourth-grade teacher at Cornell Intermediate School, and fired her in February 2011 on immorality charges after she testified during a district judicial proceeding that she had sex with Patrick Collins, a teacher and former teachers union president, on campus during school hours while two other teachers served as lookouts. While Ms. DiBattista was dismissed from the district, Mr. Collins, who had been teaching for 33 years, was able to retire with a $58,000 settlement and his teaching certificate intact.
Commonwealth Court judges ruled in August 2013 that her testimony of the incidents, which spanned several years, should not have been used against her and that an “implied agreement” was struck between Ms. DiBattista and school district officials that would grant her immunity for her testimony against Mr. Collins.
The Commonwealth Court opinion, however, did not specifically demand the district rehire her.
The state Supreme Court refused to hear the district’s appeal of the decision in March.
Ms. DiBattista’s attorney, Phillip Fabiano, said she returned to the district Monday as a Title I math specialist at Founders’ Hall Annex, formerly White Oak Elementary School, where the district’s sixth-grade students are housed. Her state-issued certification is in elementary education for grades K-6. Before returning to the district, Ms. DiBattista was working as a dog groomer.
Mr. Fabiano said he and his client are in the process of negotiating with the district for reimbursement for her lost salary and benefits.
“From my perspective, I think this is just a simple math question,” he said. “You get a calculator, multiply how much she was making annually by nine and count it out.”
Talks of Ms. DiBattista returning to work began at the start of summer, Mr. Fabiano said, causing her to update her expired teaching certificate. For years, he said, she didn’t worry about the certificate because she “thought she would never need it again.” At 59, he said, his client was in a position to collect back pay for her wrongful termination and leave the district for good.
“She’s taken on the responsibility of going back to teaching when all she was entitled to was damages,” Mr. Fabiano said. “The court didn’t tell her she had to go back to school and go back to that job. She wants to, even though she’s going to be in school with people who said all these horrible things about her.”
Parent Antonia Howze has two children in the district, ages 8 and 13, but said Ms. DiBattista’s past isn’t nearly as important as her abilities as a teacher.
“It shouldn’t have been during school hours,” Ms. Howze said. “However, teachers’ personal lives are not parents’ business. Everyone deserves another chance.”
Mr. Fabiano agreed, and said the district’s future treatment toward Ms. DiBattista is more important than her past indiscretions.
“A promise was made to her and that promise was broken, and she deserves to be treated fairly because of it,” Mr. Fabiano said.
District administrators have declined comment and refused to provide her salary.
Clarece Polke: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1889 or on Twitter @clarepolke. First Published August 27, 2014 11:52 AM