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from www.vcstar.com – A hearing to determine whether the Oxnard School District was right in firing an eighth-grade science teacher who acted in pornographic films ended Thursday.
A three-person commission has 30 days to deliberated and decide whether Stacie Halas, 32, can keep her teaching job.
After six days of testimony, attorneys representing Halas and the school district closed the hearing by characterizing the case as one that was about either deceit or redemption.
Representing the school district, attorney Nitasha Sawhney told the Commission of Professional Competence that teachers are role models for children.
“Being a teacher comes with great responsibility. They are exemplars. Teachers are trusted with much more than the curriculum,” said Sawhney, citing past legal cases. “In this case, Ms. Halas has failed the district’s standard and the legal standard as exemplar and role model.”
Sawhney said the district has the right to fire Halas on the grounds that she is unfit to teach, has conducted immoral activity and was dishonest.
“This is not a case of a young woman who made a mistake many moons ago and then found her way,” Sawhney said. “This is a case of Ms. Halas’ conduct, about her impact on the school district and her many, many lies.”
Representing Halas, attorney Richard Schwab asked the commission to consider the past three years Halas worked at Haydock Intermediate School in Oxnard and not the X-rated videos made in 2006. He said this case is about the ability of a person to change and become deserving of a second chance.
“She went from the abyss of the adult industry … and she has escaped. She’s one of the lucky ones,” Schwab said. “This is not evidently unfit (to teach); this is finding a new life. This is what you call positive.”
Schwab said Halas’ performance as a teacher was never questioned and that she is a respected teacher who got along well with students.
In his closing statement, Schwab also referred to the biblical tale of the woman who committed adultery and faced execution.
“Metaphorically, we are holding stones at this time,” Schwab told the commission. “We today have that decision to make. Do we throw that stone?”
In March, the school district placed Halas on paid leave after students and eventually administrators discovered online pornography featuring Halas. The next month, the school board voted unanimously to fire her. She is now on paid leave.
Finishing her testimony today, Halas, a Camarillo resident, told the commission she was ready to return to the classroom. She said she would have liked to discuss Hurricane Sandy with the students.
“I miss teaching,” she said. “I miss the kiddos.”
Halas, a Newbury Park High School and CSU Monterey Bay graduate, said she was struggling financially when she starred in the first video, buried by student loans and credit card debt totaling $100,000.
“I couldn’t find any jobs,” she said. “I was getting to the point where I needed a check. I got desperate.”
Halas said that in a nine-month period she shot 10 to 12 sex scenes and got paid $1,500 for each scene.
The school district’s attorney questioned what Halas called desperation, saying that in the two months before she entered the pornographic industry, she only applied to jobs at two restaurants.
“That is not what you do when you’re desperate for work. Maybe she would have even considered a job at a strip club before becoming a porn star,” Sawhney told the commission.
“We believe that you will ultimately agree with the district that Ms. Halas became a pornographic star knowing this was completely incompatible with being a teacher but that it was fun, that it was exciting and that it was something she wasn’t supposed to do and did it anyway.”
Suggesting that Halas enjoyed being in pornography is “insulting” and “degrading,” Schwab said.
Halas sought employment in a “lawful” and “vibrant” industry out of financial desperation, and the fact that she changed is a valuable lesson, he said.
“Do we tell our children, ‘If you’ve dug a hole so deep … to forget about it, there’s no future for you?’ ” Schwab said. “In this country, we do have opportunity and second chances, and we should encourage people to do better if they’ve made mistakes.”
Beginning Oct. 22 and involving more than 20 witnesses, the hearing was at times uncomfortable due to the facility. Proceedings took place in a cramped meeting room without a working clock at the Oxnard Performing Arts Center, and attorneys, school administrators and commission members spent six-hour days in foldout chairs.
The content of the case also caused discomfort. Many witnesses, including teachers and administrators, were asked if they had ever watched pornography and what their views of it were. A nonexplicit portion of a video as well as sexually explicit photos featuring Halas were shown at the hearing, evidence that Administrative Law Judge Julie Cabos-Owen tried to limit.
Halas said she was in the pornographic industry from December 2005 to August 2006. Although her résumé says her first teaching position at Simi Valley High School began in June 2006, Halas said she was not in the classroom until late August or early September, after she left the pornographic industry.
The Oxnard district thinks Halas was teaching while appearing in pornography on the side. On Thursday, Assistant Superintendent Sean Goldman presented a document that shows Halas was a substitute teacher for four school districts in February and March of 2006, when she was still making the videos.
Schwab questioned the accuracy of the document.
In the coming weeks, the panel of three women will decide whether to uphold the district’s decision to dismiss Halas. Cabos-Owen along with Cara Comstock, a principal in the Hueneme School District, and Karen Rapien, a science teacher at a Fullerton high school, will all have equal voting rights. The decision does not have to be unanimous, according to guidelines by the state Department of General Services.
If the commission finds the district is right in dismissing Halas, the Commission on Teacher Credentialing would determine whether she can keep her credentials. Both sides will have the opportunity to appeal the commission’s decision in Ventura County Superior Court.