Teacher sues district over ‘wrongful’ firing
Bellport Middle School, where a teacher was fired after a student obtained a topless photo of her without her knowledge or consent. The teacher is suing the district.

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Teacher sues district over ‘wrongful’ firing

Story By: GLENN ROHRBACKER
4/4/2019


Lauren Miranda, a former teacher at Bellport Middle School, filed a notice of claim on Monday, indicating her $3 million suit against the South Country School District. The district officially fired Miranda at the Wednesday, March 27 board meeting, after a student obtained a topless photo of her without her knowledge or consent. The lawsuit says Miranda at no time caused the photo to land in the hands of a student.

The lawsuit states that on Jan. 11, school officials, saying a student had obtained a topless photo of her, approached Miranda. The photo had been sent to a male teacher in the district two years ago, whom Miranda was dating at the time. The lawsuit accuses the district of discrimination, based on the premise that Miranda is female. The district conducted an internal investigation, which the lawsuit calls “humiliating” and “incomplete,” designed to come to a conclusion that she was guilty. The district placed Miranda on administrative leave, with pay, saying she was not a “role model” for students. Later in January, she was informed she would eventually be terminated, and was given the reasons why in a Feb. 21 letter written by superintendent Joseph Giani.

The letter states, in reasoning for her firing, Miranda “failed to cooperate” in the initial investigation in January, and made a false statement to an administrator. It also says Miranda was “insubordinate” because she said this wouldn’t be an issue if she had been in the three-year tenure track. (New York State amended its education law extending the probationary period for untenured teachers to be four years, from three, starting in July 2015, just before Miranda was hired.) The letter then lists that her firing was also because she “caused, allowed, or otherwise made it possible for a nude” photo to be obtained by a student, and for sending a nude photo to a colleague. 

Miranda was not available for comment. Comments were provided through her lawyer, John Ray of Ray, Mitev & Associates. 

“The school has decided that men and women are not equal,” Ray told the Advance in a phone interview. 

Ray said the district decided since Miranda is female and her breasts are shown in the photo, she was discriminated against, alleging that the same area exposed on a man would not warrant the same treatment. The lawsuit states the male teacher was not disciplined by the district for possessing the same photo. The lawsuit is also not pursuing any charges based on invasion of privacy.

“My career has been ruined, my reputation has been tarnished, I have been stigmatized,” Miranda said in a press conference Monday. “Everything I worked so hard for since I was 18 years old has been stolen from me because of one innocuous selfie.”

Miranda has taught at Bellport Middle School for four years in the math department. She was on track for tenure as allowed by law. Evaluations from the district, provided by Ray, show that she was regarded in her ability to teach and her dedication to students. In an evaluation submitted on Dec. 27, 2017, Miranda was rated Highly Effective, the highest qualification, in every category except one, in which she was rated Effective. The evaluation called her an “outstanding math instructor” and “genuinely dedicated” to her students’ success.

Also at the March 27 board meeting, a resolution was passed to hire an independent investigator to look into claims of sexual discrimination. Ray said this action “doesn’t make sense,” since the actions against Miranda were already taken. 

The lawsuit will be filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York. The suit calls for $3 million in damages due to lost wages, anxiety, depression and other issues. Ray said he and his client would welcome a settlement with the district and would like Miranda to be reinstated as a teacher. 

Giani declined to comment, saying the district does not comment on pending litigation.