CLOSED ENCOUNTERS

WHAT HAPPENED AT THE OPEN SCHOOL IS ANYTHING BUT AN OPEN BOOK.AN OPEN AND SHUT UP CASE AT THE JEFFCO OPEN SCHOOL, THEY DON'T ALWAYS PRACTICE WHAT THEY TEACH.

Although exactly what went on between Myles and Smith may never be known because of the confidentiality agreement, unsealed court documents in U.S. District Court in Denver, where the case was transferred from Jefferson County, provide some details.

According to a document filed on behalf of Myles, the interim principal "became the sexual target of a teacher at the open school, Defendant Judith Miller Smith. [Myles] is a homosexual; Smith is apparently bisexual."

The document continues: "Smith made repeated sexual advances to Myles in front of other Open School staff members, told other open school staff members that she was sexually attracted to Myles, and she flirted incessantly with Myles during staff meetings. Myles was friendly back, and the two developed a close relationship, however the relationship fell short of a sexual one."

The Jeffco school district's lawyer also represented Smith and Bettridge. "Smith denies that she targeted Myles for a sexual relationship at the Open School," reads one document filed on behalf of the school district with the courts. "Smith was the object of unwanted, unsolicited attention of a romantic nature...Myles knew of and acknowledged Smith's discomfort with Myles' attention and pressure to be involved romantically."

During the course of the relationship, Myles contends in court filings, "Myles and Smith exchanged letters, poems, and cards. In the Spring of 1993, Smith began blackmailing Myles with the correspondence, and she threatened to use them as evidence of `sexual harassment.' After making these threats, Smith would repeat her sexual advances toward Myles. Myles found the situation to be painful and decided to terminate her friendship with Smith."

According to court documents submitted by the Jeffco school district's lawyer, Myles's correspondence included: complaints that she could not see Smith without an audience present; encouragement for Smith to become more sexually involved; telling Smith that she (Myles) had "loved her courageously"; asking Smith to "accept me as a companion in your journey, rather than a future possibility when conditions are more favorable"; and apologizing for having gotten angry about the dissolution of their relationship, stating, "You touched me deeply and regrouping is not always a pretty sight."

According to documents Myles filed with the courts, Ruth Steele, then the principal of the Open School, knew of Myles's relationship with Smith but told her not to worry about it. Myles says Steele told her that with her talents, "she would always have a job with the school district." Under terms of the settlement, Steele is not allowed to discuss the case.

Shortly before the gag order was imposed, Judi Justus, a teacher who's worked at the Open School sixteen years, told Colorado Woman News that there were five other couples working at the school. "The model here is that it's quite all right to have a partner who works here," she told the publication. While getting involved with Smith might have been an error on Myles's part, Justus said, "it was definitely not sexual harassment."

During the 1993-94 school year, Steele was on sabbatical. In her absence, Myles was named interim principal.

In court documents, Myles contends that in the fall of 1993, Smith "continued her sexual pursuit of Myles, in front of other Open School personnel, including Ted Bettridge and Mike Delaney." And Smith also continued threatening to charge her with sexual harassment, Myles claims.

Concerned that Smith would make good on her threats, Myles says she went to Smith's residence to exchange the letters she had received from Smith for the letters Myles had sent. Myles later told friends that Smith accepted her letters but refused to hand over Myles's.

In December 1993, after Smith refused to return the correspondence, Myles asked for a mediation through another Open School teacher. According to Myles's version of the story, the mediation was successful, and the two women agreed that they could continue to work together on a professional basis.

By February 1994 Myles was involved in another romantic relationship with a female middle school teacher. In court documents, Myles claims that Smith decided to make good on her threats when she realized her friendship with Myles was over. That, Myles says, and the fact that Smith's two male friends, Bettridge and elementary teacher Delaney, were in hot water with the interim principal.

Myles was making life more difficult for some teachers by asking more of them, say some parents and staffers. Myles herself told Colorado Woman News that she was controversial because she confronted teachers who were not challenging themselves--an activity that did not go over well with longtime teachers.

end of part 1

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