FITCHBURG -- A paraprofessional at South Street Elementary School has been placed on paid administrative leave pending an investigation into modeling photos that were sent to the school district late last week.
According to Superintendent of Schools André Ravenelle, Kaitlin Pearson, who had been working in one of the school's special education programs as a full-time classroom assistant for a small group of students since November, was placed on paid administrative leave early Friday afternoon after the district received the packet of modeling photos that morning.
Several of the pictures, which can be found online, show Pearson, 23, scantily clad or partially nude, with her hands covering her breasts. She appears in one photo with another scantily clad woman on the cover of a September 2013 issue of ModelsMania magazine.
"The only comment I would make is, we would be committed to take action on anything that we're knowledgeable of that would pose any concern of someone working with students," Ravenelle said.
Ravenelle said he was not aware of Pearson's modeling photos until school officials were mailed the anonymous packet. A similar packet was also sent to the Sentinel & Enterprise.
"Can you believe that this girl was hired to work with special education children in the Fitchburg schools?!!" reads a short note, typed in all capital letters, that was included in the packet sent to the Sentinel & Enterprise. "Well she was and currently is. Check it our for yourselves."
Ravenelle said school officials have not typically "Googled" prospective employees prior to hiring them, but may start doing so given this incident.
Nude or semi-nude photographs are not something that would appear on a Massachusetts Criminal Offender Record Information, or CORI, query, which was performed on Pearson prior to her hiring and is standard procedure for the hiring of all school employees, Ravenelle said. He said all proper procedures were performed in her hiring.
Ravenelle declined to comment further on the matter, and said that doing so would undermine the ongoing investigation.
"We will be working with our counsel, and we will be working with the union for the investigation," Ravenelle said.
Two parents waiting for their children outside South Street Elementary School after dismissal Tuesday afternoon said the district should have done more research on Pearson before hiring her, but did not take issue with her modeling in and of itself.
"They shouldn't have hired her if they have a problem with her second job," said Jennifer MacKinnon, whose daughter is a third grader at the school. "This is the school's problem."
Reyes Medina, whose son is a second grader at the school, agreed.
"They should've Googled her in the first place," he said.
MacKinnon said she'd heard of Pearson before, and said she thought she had been working with severely handicapped children at the school, but did not know much else about her.
Shortly after the first edition of the article was posted on the Sentinel & Enterprise Facebook page Tuesday afternoon, there was a flood of comments in support of Pearson. In just over an hour, more than 25 comments appeared, most of them saying that Pearson didn't do anything wrong, and wondering what the big deal was. Others suggested that someone may have a vendetta against Pearson, to send these anonymous packets to her employer and the press.
Pearson specifies on her profile on Model Mayhem, a website for professional and amateur models, that she only shoots implied nude photos with photographers that she knows and trusts. She specifically states that she does not pose fully nude.
Pearson could not be immediately reached for comment. Attempts to reach her via Facebook were not returned Tuesday.
Ravenelle said paraprofessionals are part of the teachers union. He could not confirm, however, that Pearson is a member of the union. Teachers union President Adam Cordio could not be immediately reached for comment.
Mayor Lisa Wong, chairwoman of the Fitchburg School Committee, declined to comment on the matter.
Pearson, who lists herself as being from Worcester on Model Mayhem, is originally from Fitchburg and attended Fitchburg Public Schools, according to Sentinel & Enterprise archives, which show she made the honor roll while attending Fitchburg High School.
Follow Alana Melanson at facebook.com/alanasentinel or on Twitter @alanamelanson.