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And, she said, the district had reacted more harshly in her case than it had when similar allegations had been lodged against heterosexual men.

Asked by Westword what evidence Myles had of this double-standard, Ruttenberg, her attorney, says, "All my proof is sealed down at the courthouse." Because school-board actions in alleged harassment cases can fall under the category of personnel decisions, they often are exempt from public disclosure rules.

In her suit, Myles asked for reinstatement to her job with full back pay. Barring that, she wanted close to a million dollars for the salary she would lose over her career plus damages.

Soon after Myles filed suit, the district altered its finding against her. The sexual harassment allegation was dropped, and Myles simply was accused of violating district conflict-of-interest policies for pursuing a relationship with someone who worked for her.

But the accusation of sexual harassment had never been the focus of Myles's lawsuit. The issue was whether she had been given due process before the board had decided not to renew her contract, effectively ending her future at the Open School.

The legal motions, arguments and counter-arguments flew back and forth through the winter, spring and into this summer. "If they offer me some large sum of money and don't reinstate me, that's not right," Myles said in August. "I'm an educator, and I'll never give up."

On her way to racking up $17,000 in legal bills and having lost her $65,000 a year salary, she had already moved out of her nice home in Wheat Ridge and into a tiny house, so small that her son, Stirling, had to sleep in the front room. Unable to get a job in education in the metro area, Myles worked at a bookstore to make ends meet.

Stirling and his sister still attended the Open School, which caused other problems. Toward the end of the spring term, Myles called Schwartzkopf and warned her to keep Bettridge away from her two children or she'd seek a restraining order against him.

Soon after Myles called Schwartzkopf, Bettridge was summoned to the Open School office to take a call from Schwartz-kopf. A few minutes later, an Open School employee says, "Bettridge stomped out of the office, out of the school and hasn't been back since."

Bettridge is now teaching at another district school.
Myles finally found a job at a charter school in Durango. The day before her hiring was to be finalized, Honnecke received a call from the school's principal. "He said a newspaper reporter down there had recognized Karla's photograph and seemed to recall some sort of trouble she had in Denver," Honnecke says. "Yeah, right. A reporter in Durango just happens to recognize her...I wasn't born yesterday. Someone is still trying to screw up her life."

The principal asked Honnecke, who was listed as a reference on Myles's application, for her take on what had happened. She told him what she believed to be the truth, and Myles got the job.

Myles and the defendants named in her suit reached a settlement agreement in the first week of September. Although the terms of the deal weren't disclosed, sources say that Myles received $45,000. The district spent $144,000 fighting the case.

"She calls it a moral victory," Honnecke says of Myles, "but not much of one."

Beyond that, Honnecke adds, Myles cannot say much. And neither can anyone else involved in the case.

Instead of appearing at a trial that would have presented the facts of the case in an open courtroom, the suit's participants were all placed under a gag order demanded by the school district as part of the settlement. And the district has let people know that uttering just one word might be enough to send this case right back into court.

Hefty, who is now superintendent of the Eagle County school district, did not return telephone calls from Westword.

Finch, who is now the superintendent of schools in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, was reached at his office there and asked for his comment about the Myles case. "Not one sentence," Finch replied.

At the Open School, parents and staffers are open about one thing: their concern over the school's future. And they worry that the Myles case is just one more thing that the district could use against them.

But district spokeswoman Kay Pride says that any perception that the district would like to do away with the Open School represents old attitudes and not the current thinking. When she began working for the district eight years ago, she concedes, there was "a feeling that alternative schools were barely tolerated.

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Steve Jackson