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WARNING: This story contains an image that some may feel is offensive.
An elementary school teacher in Canada is coming under fire after provocative images of herself ended up on Facebook and Pinterest pages, prompting some parents to remove their children from school.
But Penny Mueller of the Crestomere School in the rural town of Lacombe, Alberta, remains defiant, claiming she has done nothing wrong.
Mueller’s troubles began in the summer of 2009 when she posed for a photo in Washington, D.C., while attending a taxpayer-funded conference. In that photo, Mueller and another teacher, Marti Ingram, are seen performing a simulated sexual act on the Washington Monument.
The photo was posted by Ingram on Facebook, and Ingram was subsequently reprimanded and fined $500 by the Alberta Teacher’s Association.
The ATA, however, took no action involving a similar complaint against Principal Mueller, citing insufficient evidence for a disciplinary hearing.
“It was a private photo,” Gordon Thomas, the ATA’s executive secretary, told the Calgary Herald. “The principal didn’t post it.”
Parent Lori Turner filed the original complaint against Mueller and yanked her children from the school after the principal criticized her in a private meeting for raising concerns about the photo with officials at the Wolf Creek School Division.
“I think she was upset because she got her wrists slapped by administration,” Turner told the Herald.
“She asked me if I had never been young and stupid once, and I said ‘sure,’ but never when my career was guiding and mentoring children.”
Mueller told the Herald she never had behaved in a way that undermined the dignity of the teaching profession.
“I have not done anything unprofessional,” she said. “I think the media, including yourself, need to be aware about how the general public or parents go out of their way to destroy or cause grief in educators’ lives.”
Last fall, another parent, Barb Neilson, removed her kids from the school because she was dissatisfied with the response of both the local school board and the ATA to prurient jokes on Mueller’s Pinterest account.
Neilson found one report on the principal’s publicly accessible account that featured a drawing of two women playing squash while wearing form-fitting clothing.
Its caption stated, “Shorts: if it looks like your vagina is trying to eat them, they’re not for you.”
Another displayed a photograph of a teen girl in front of a Christmas tree holding a sanitary napkin on which a human eye was drawn.
The words “Thanks Dad for the iPad” were superimposed on the picture.
“(Mueller is) supposed to be a strong female role model,” said Neilson “and she was posting humor that was not cool at all.”
Neilson went to an ATA officer with printouts of some of the material, but said, “(The officer) said it was not ideal she was posting those sort of things, but it was nothing warranting an investigation.”
“Her recommendation was I withdraw my complaint because it wasn’t going anywhere.”
The ATA’s Gordon Thomas confirmed the complaint was withdrawn, but said the matter would be re-examined and a probe completed if Neilson submitted a new letter detailing her concern.
“If the complainant wants to reactivate, they should send it in,” he said. “I can’t just swoop in there.”
Meanwhile, Mueller remains active on social media, describing herself online as “passionate” about educational technology.
Some of her Twitter postings are work-related, while others touch on her personal life.
Mueller retweeted a picture of a young girl fishing from a dock in April with the caption “Girls who fish are cuter than girls who twerk.”
The principal added the comment “Ya we are!”