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Woman accuses Pittsburgh school leaders of discrimination

| Friday, Sept. 20, 2013, 11:45 a.m.

In the 2009-10 school year, the staff at Northview Accelerated Learning Academy was divided along racial lines, a former academy teacher claims in a federal lawsuit filed this week.

Katie LaCava, 32, who is white, said the black principal and black assistant principal, MiChele Holly and Deborah Hollis, had “particularly warm and friendly relationships” with the black paraprofessionals at the school but not with any of the white staff.

When she complained about one of those aides doing personal chores and sleeping in class instead of helping with students, Holly and Hollis retaliated by filing disciplinary actions against her and twice having school police remove LaCava from the building, the lawsuit says.

“It was only after she made a complaint about one of the individuals who, in our opinion, received favorable treatment at the school that she had any difficulty,” said Emily Town, her lawyer.

Holly gave LaCava an “unsatisfactory” rating, which left her with the choice of resigning before the end of the school year or being banned from teaching in the district again, the lawsuit says. Holly did the same to two other newly hired white teachers, the lawsuit says.

Holly, Hollis and Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent Linda Lane didn't return calls seeking comment. District spokeswoman Ebony Pugh said the only response would come from Ira Weiss, the district's solicitor.

Weiss declined comment but confirmed that the district doesn't rehire teachers with fewer than three years of experience who end a school year with an unsatisfactory rating.

The district closed the predominantly black school more than a year ago because of declining enrollment. The school bordered the Northview Heights housing project.

Town said she has no evidence the location or racial makeup of the school had anything to do with what happened.

“I believe that the supervisors created the situation,” she said.

She said LaCava met with a school board representative but the district didn't do anything to correct the problem.

“They were certainly aware of the ongoing situation,” Town said.

LaCava is now teaching for a charter school and is seeking her lost pay and benefits, Town said.

Brian Bowling is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-325-4301 or bbowling@tribweb.com.

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