A former Fairfax County teacher has filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging that administrators at the nationally recognized Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology discriminated against her after she became pregnant.
The social studies educator, Amanda Hurowitz, said she was on maternity leave in April with her second child when she learned from the school’s principal, Ann Bonitatibus, and an assistant principal that her contract as a part-time teacher would not be renewed for the 2018-2019 academic year.
Hurowitz, who began teaching at Thomas Jefferson in 2006 and moved to part-time status after having a child in 2016, said she later learned two other expectant or young mothers who taught humanities were also not rehired.
“That began to look like pregnancy discrimination,” she said in an interview.
In a May 17 email to Thomas Jefferson staff, students and parents, school officials briefly addressed the issue, explaining they planned to limit part-time positions to specialized areas or situations where “we simply do not have a need for a full-time position.”
“Full-time positions build strength and continuity in our community when teachers are present for each student, every colleague and all parents — each day, all day,” the email read.
An email to Bonitatibus seeking comment was not returned Friday. A Fairfax County Public Schools spokesman issued a statement saying the system does not comment on personnel matters.
“Our principals have the ability to staff their schools in a manner that is both fiscally responsible and resource efficient while following established hiring and work assignment procedures,” the statement read. “All discrimination complaints are taken seriously and established procedures are followed in responding to such complaints.”
Bonitatibus, in a phone call, “made it clear that she may not even grant me an interview for the upcoming school year,” according to a copy of the discrimination complaint Hurowitz provided.
A spokesman for the EEOC declined to confirm a complaint was filed, citing federal privacy laws.
Hurowitz, who taught three classes and co-sponsored the student government and an environmental club when she worked part time, said she planned to return as a full-time teacher when her children were older.
“It actually provides for more continuity because you get to keep these high-quality teachers as opposed to finding new teachers,” she said.
Hurowitz said the principal cited three decisions Hurowitz made as student government sponsor that contributed to her contract not being renewed:
●An email Hurowitz sent reminding teachers to check on students’ mental health.
●Photos and video she shared with teachers of students walking out of class during a nationwide March 14 protest against gun violence.
●A request she submitted asking to use student government money to purchase supplies for the walkout; the request was denied.
“I just thought I was doing my job,” said Hurowitz, who decided to apply for a full-time position after she was told her part-time contract wasn’t being renewed but never heard back from the Fairfax system.
A second part-time teacher, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because she feared speaking out would jeopardize future employment, said she received a termination letter in April.
The teacher, who had worked at Thomas Jefferson since 2007 and switched to a part-time role in August 2017 when she became pregnant with her second child, said she was caught off-guard by the termination letter because the school system had granted her an unpaid leave of absence for 2018-2019.
At Thomas Jefferson, part-time teachers operate under one-year agreements. But the teacher, a former department chair who helped devise teaching schedules, described the contract as “bureaucratic paperwork” — administrators, she said, often assumed part-time teachers would return each school year.
“I went part time because that’s what I needed to do with one young child and another one on the way,” the teacher said. “The school, the county took that opportunity to get rid of my position.”
The teacher said the shift away from part-time teachers “was to create a situation where they put into practice, or effect, a policy that targeted three women who just had babies.”
Hurowitz, who hopes to regain her job by filing the EEOC complaint, said she hopes her grievance will prompt Fairfax school system officials to put more protections in place for part-time teachers.
Students rallied for Hurowitz and the second teacher in the spring, delivering about 200 supportive testimonials to school district officials. The online form used by students to submit the messages described Hurowitz as a “compassionate, dedicated, and involved member of our community.”
One former student who was among more than 150 people who submitted a testimonial for Hurowitz wrote that the teacher and her anthropology class were “a big reason why I survived my junior year.”
“She is one of the kindest, most compassionate people at TJ,” the student wrote. “Mrs. Hurowitz leaving TJ would be poor for the school and reflect poorly on the administration.”