FITCHBURG -- A Fitchburg teacher's aide who moonlights as a lingerie model has sparked a debate over what conduct is befitting of an educator outside the classroom.
Many people seem to have no issue with Kaitlin Pearson's modeling portfolio, while others are questioning whether someone who works with young children should be posing for racy photos.
Regardless, Superintendent of Schools André Ravenelle placed Pearson on paid administrative leave early Friday afternoon after the district was anonymously sent a packet containing her modeling photos.
Pearson has been working in one of South Street Elementary School's special-education programs as a full-time classroom assistant for a small group of students since November.
Several of the pictures in question, 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 topless woman on the cover of a September 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. Ravenelle placed Pearson on administrative leave before speaking with a reporter for this story.
A short note, typed in all capital letters, that was included in the packet sent to the Sentinel & Enterprise read in part: "Can you believe that this girl was hired to work with special education children in the Fitchburg schools?!!"
Ravenelle said school officials have not typically "Googled" prospective employees before 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 before 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.
"We will be working with our counsel, and we will be working with the union for the investigation," Ravenelle said.
Ravenelle declined to comment further on the matter, and said that doing so would undermine the ongoing investigation.
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 photos.
"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 believes Pearson had been working with severely disabled children at the school, but said she did not know much else about her.
Shortly after the first version of this article was posted on the Sentinel & Enterprise's Facebook page Tuesday afternoon, a flood of users posted comments supporting Pearson. Most people said Pearson did not do anything wrong and questioned the decision to place her on administrative leave. Others suggested that whoever sent her modeling photos to her employer and the press may have a vendetta against her.
Pearson specifies on her profile on Model Mayhem, a website that helps models find work, that she only shoots implied nude photos with photographers whom she knows and trusts. She specifically states that she does not pose fully nude.
"I am energetic, creative, feisty, passionate about modeling, and I bring my love of life to every shoot!" writes Pearson on Model Mayhem. "I have a background in graphics and business and as such I am as reliable and responsible as a model could be. I'm balancing modeling with a full time job, so my time is very precious. I am here to expand my modeling horizons and am interested in serious opportunities."
Pearson could not be immediately reached for comment. Attempts to reach her via Facebook were unsuccessful.
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.
Fitchburg Mayor Lisa Wong, chairwoman of the 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.