Court overturns McKeesport teacher's termination

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A former teacher's testimony that she had sex with a fellow teacher on school property should not have been used by the McKeesport Area School District to terminate her employment, according to a decision by Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania judges.

As a result, the court reversed the district's decision to fire Cornell Intermediate School teacher Angela DiBattista in 2006. District officials have 30 days to refer the case back to Commonwealth Court for a rehearing by the entire court panel, or seek an appeal in a higher court.

The school district's lawyer, Carl Beard, could not be reached for comment. District officials, however, have maintained they did not give Ms. DiBattista immunity from termination in exchange for her testimony.

On Tuesday, however, Judge Renee Cohn Jubelirer wrote that Ms. DiBattista had an "implied agreement" with school district officials that gave her immunity when she agreed to testify against another teacher, Patrick Collins, with whom she had been having an affair for six years. On more than one occasion, the judge wrote, school solicitors and attorneys had indicated they were not targeting the petitioner, Ms. DiBattista, and in one case said, "We are not going to do anything to get [Petitioner] regardless of what is said in that hearing."

During Ms. DiBattista's testimony against Mr. Collins -- who was facing allegations he struck, stalked, threatened and sexually harassed her -- she told school solicitors that she had had sex in classrooms with Mr. Collins several times, although not during school hours or when children were present, the opinion states. Months later, Ms. DiBattista learned that a newspaper was going to publish details of the testimony, including the sexual conduct on school grounds, after obtaining information from what was supposed to have been Mr. Collins's confidential disciplinary hearing, the judge wrote.

Ms. DiBattista was informed Jan. 4, 2006, that she was being suspended due to allegations of immorality. Two days later, the newspaper published the story.

Ms. DiBattista, now working as a dog groomer, is hopeful the judges' decision to overturn her termination might ultimately mean she can return to teaching, said her lawyer, Phil Fabiano.

"She's been a teacher since 1993, she loved being a teacher, she appears to be very good at it and she would like to return to it," Mr. Fabiano said.

education - neigh_east

Amy McConnell Schaarsmith: aschaarsmith@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1719.


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