A Virginia high school teacher, known on the burlesque scene as Lottie Ellington, has resigned after a bawdy video of her performing at a festival surfaced online, causing anger among parents. (Photo: Facebook)
A Virginia high school teacher has resigned after coming under fire from parents for her performance in a racy burlesque video that surfaced online.
“A lot of booty bopping, a lot of breasts — the whole nine yards,” is how Bernadette Thomason, the parent of a student at Hopewell High School, described the performance to CBS 6. “She doesn’t need to be teaching my child, or any child at all, for that matter.”
It’s unclear why the YouTube video — from the 2014 Michigan Burlesque Festival, and viewed more than 7,500 times — has become an issue only this week. In it, the teacher, who goes by the stage name Lottie Ellington, does a spirited dance to “Twerking in the Rain,” in which she strips down to a jockstrap, knee socks, and nipple tassels. She appears to be a known performer on the regional burlesque circuit and has a Facebook page featuring various onstage images, as well as posts that appear to be in response to this week’s controversy.
“The school board has accepted the teacher’s resignation, and she is no longer an employee at the school,” Hopewell School District interim superintendent Melody Hackney told Yahoo Parenting through a statement Wednesday.
On her Lottie Ellington Facebook page, the teacher began posting about the controversy on July 26. “I am an adult, and I am human,” she wrote. “I am not in any way ashamed of my art, my life, my sexuality, or my choices.” The next day she posted a Dalai Lama quote: “Do not let the behavior of others destroy your inner peace.” There’s also an image of a poster for the Ohio Burlesque Festival, at which she’s slated to perform this weekend. Ellington did not respond to Yahoo Parenting’s requests for comment.
One of the tamer moments from the controversial burlesque video. (Photo: YouTube)
Burlesque, which has enjoyed a brisk comeback within the past decade or so, is decidedly different from go-go dancing and is largely understood to be a provocative, exaggerated, parody type of entertainment. But that hasn’t helped ease the minds of the parents who are upset about the video. “I can’t believe a teacher that’s supposed to be teaching our children the right way would do something like that,” another school mom, Mary Peterson, told CBS 6.
On Twitter, those who appear to know the teacher made comments including “Hopewell’s finest teacher award” and “Who was the Hopewell teacher that got caught stripping?”
Before news of the teacher’s resignation broke, a CBS 6 legal expert, Todd Stone, weighed in on the matter for the local report, noting that the teacher would be fine, legally, if she did not distribute the video. “If we are talking about an adult and someone else has chosen to distribute it, well, that’s their choice,” he said. “The Constitution protects free speech and expression. This is a legal profession or hobby. She has the right to do it, and it’s protected under free speech.” Although the Virginia state code does include an immorality clause when it comes to acceptable reasons for firing teachers, Stone said this video doesn’t fit that description.
But teachers can and will be held accountable for what they choose to post on social media, noted Michel Simpson, an attorney with the National Education Association (NEA), in an slightly dated yet still relevant article titled “Social Networking Nightmares” posted on the NEA website.
“First, let’s debunk the free speech myth: Many teachers believe they have the absolute First Amendment right to post anything they want on social networking sites, including party pix and diatribes about the boss. After all, they’re on their own time and using their own resources,” he wrote. “Sadly, the courts say otherwise.” Simpson goes on to give examples of various court cases of fired teachers — one for mildly flirtatious MySpace comments, another who insulted school administrators on a personal blog, and a third for posting drunken photos — all of whom lost their claims saying First Amendment rights were violated.
“Make no mistake: Administrators are catching on and checking up. The Washington Post reported about a Missouri superintendent who, during interviews, insists that job applicants show him their Facebook or MySpace page,” Simpson wrote. “So, how would you fare in that situation? If you’re not sure, show your Facebook page to your mom. If she’s got any concerns or problems, then so do you.”
Still others vehemently disagree that teachers should be held to higher moral standards than other citizens. Increasingly, opined George Washington University Law School public interest law scholar Jonathan Turley in a 2012 Los Angeles Times piece, “public school teachers are being fired or suspended for perfectly lawful activities during off-work hours when those activities are deemed inappropriate by parents or school officials.” He cited examples of teachers getting disciplined for posting photos of themselves posing with strippers and holding cocktails and for being discovered to be former porn actors, all of which he believes are unfair.
More recent cases involve a Texas teacher fired for a racially charged Facebook comment in which he defends the infamous pool-party cop (who in June pulled a bikini-clad 14-year-old to the ground) and an Idaho teacher fired for posting a photo of her fiancé holding her bikini-clad breast.
“We demand a great deal of our public school teachers. They put in long hours in overcrowded classrooms, and yet they receive lower salaries than people in other professions requiring similar education levels,” Turley wrote. “For this sacrifice, we now demand that they live their lives according to a morality standard set to satisfy the lowest common denominator of parental sensibilities. They live under the transparent conditions of celebrities without any of the benefits, with parental paparazzi eager to catch them in an unguarded moment. They deserve better.”
As for Ellington, she seems to be taking the controversy in stride — at least on her burlesque persona’s Facebook page. “I am back! My life is full of possibilities!” she posted Monday. “I always say, the only thing worse than being talked about … is not being talked about!”