Many NYC public school employees are outraged that the district hired new superintendent Roberto Padilla, given his recent accusations of sexual harassment against employees at his last district.
When the New York City Department of Education required all district bosses to reapply for their jobs last June, parents and politicians were shocked to learn who was now in charge of District Seven. The DOE board and NYC Schools Chancellor David Banks had appointed Roberto Padilla, a superintendent accused of workplace sexual harassment. Padilla, a former superintendent in Newburgh, is a named defendant in a civil suit brought against him by two former female educators who say they were left no other choice after school officials brushed off their concerns.
The New York Post obtained a letter written by Council Deputy Speaker Diana Ayala and six other Bronx officials, angry at Banks and the DOE for deciding to give Padilla another chance.“How does a city that strives for diversity, equity, and equal protections for all, justify designating an individual with multiple sexual harassment allegations, to care for our children and their educators?” the letter said. Before writing the letter, Ayala had spent weeks over the summer in the chancellor’s office, unsuccessfully urging Banks to withdraw Roberto Padilla’s appointment.
The letter also questioned how the NYC DOE deemed Padilla acceptable to lead a school district while the sexual harassment civil suit was ongoing. They asked the department to reconsider the appointment and submit a formal report to the City Council. When the letter was written, Padilla still had not answered the lawsuit, even though he had been properly served and missed the deadline to answer.
Two women have formally accused Roberto Padilla of sexual harassment during a working trip in August 2021. Former Newburgh elementary school principal Una Miller and high school English teacher Elizabeth Walsh said that Padilla’s behavior left them feeling “uncomfortable,” “scared,” and “horrified.” According to another New York Post article, Padilla was the nightly event coordinator during the 2021 conference in San Diego, planning several “boozy” dinners and bar nights during the event.
Court documents state that an intoxicated Padilla touched Walsh inappropriately, putting his arm around her and rubbing his knee against hers. Later that night, he sat with Miller, touching her foot with his and trying to force her to uncross her legs. Miller says he smiled when she withdrew from him, and later traced her back tattoo with his finger before pulling her into an unwanted embrace as she tried to leave the bar.
Miller and Walsh decided to file the civil suit after escalating complaints went unanswered. They named Roberto Padilla, the Newburgh school district, and the school board as defendants. Padilla will continue receiving his former salary through November 2023 while suspended from his Newburgh position–$279,000 on top of the salary for the new position at District Seven.
In a joint statement, Miller and Walsh said they were shocked to see NYC public schools, Banks, and Mayor Adams trust Padilla while the lawsuit remains unsettled. “The students, families and educators of the Bronx and District 7 deserve better than Padilla, who we saw firsthand create a culture of fear and intimidation. We advise the city to re-evaluate this important decision.”
Roberto Padilla holds a doctorate in education with a focus on Urban School Leadership. He helped found the New York Association of Latino Administrators and Superintendents and was previously named New York Superintendent of the Year by the Council of School Superintendents. According to the New York Post, sources in Newburgh say Padilla was a board member of the organization that gave him the award, and that he is also a friend of state education commissioner, Betty Rosa.
Roberto Padilla’s transfer to another district seems to highlight the need to eliminate Pass the Trash loopholes that allow educators accused of sexual misconduct to resign and then relocate to another school. In the first half of 2022 alone, 181 teachers were charged with sex crimes against students. Sadly, many receive little in the way of consequences, such as the Florida teacher who received a mere five-day suspension after being accused of sexual harassment.