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Sunday, Apr 22, 2018
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Pasco teacher says disability led to absences

DADE CITY - A middle school teacher who could lose her job over her poor attendance record says she is partially disabled from a back injury she suffered during training in the Army. Lorrie Sabatelli-Harris, a social studies teacher at Pasco Middle School in Dade City, said Thursday in an email to The Pasco Tribune that she also was diagnosed two years ago with Fibromyalgia and “a couple of other autoimmune diseases.” She said the disability and her health issues are what led to her absences.
“Most people don’t realize that excessive stress is usually the trigger to autoimmune diseases,” Sabatelli-Harris wrote. “The constant harassment at school by administrators that are bullies is what caused most of my health issues. I have filed a complaint with the EEOC and I have retained a lawyer with the help of (United School Employees of Pasco).” In addition to her other health problems, Sabatelli-Harris said on one occasion she fell on the stairs at the school, injuring her arm, knee and back. She missed a “handful of days,” she said, until she had surgery on her arm. She said that fall could have been avoided if she had been given a key to the elevator, which was kept lock during the school day. The school district has said that the teacher’s excessive absences over the last four years – including more than 20 missed days this school year – have undermined her ability to do her job. Superintendent Kurt Browning wants the school board to fire her, but Sabatelli-Harris has asked for an appeals hearing before the board. A date for that hearing has not been set. In the meantime, Sabatelli-Harris has been suspended without pay. In a May 6 letter to the teacher, Browning wrote that her attendance problems have caused administrators, other teachers, parents and students to lose confidence in her ability to provide meaningful and quality education. Sabatelli-Harris said that isn’t the case. “I have plenty of teachers that are willing to work with me under my current health conditions and my students love me and are actually signing a petition to get me back,” she wrote. “I constantly get emails, text messages and (Facebook) messages from my current students and former students.” She added that, “As for parents, there are always going to be some that don’t like you, but the majority of the parents thank me for that I have done for their children.” Browning should look into the situation further before making recommendations based on one-sided information, the teacher said. “I’m not taking off to go on a weeklong vacation because it’s my grandmother’s birthday, or I’m not taking off because I am in the Gasparilla parade every year,” Sabatelli-Harris wrote. “My absences are due to my disability and my health.”

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