Two weeks ago, XO Jane published an essay by a woman who told of being sexually harassed in high school by a teacher who touched her and flirted with her. Now, the incident has become a full blown scandal at one of L.A.'s most prestigious private day schools.
In her essay, Mikaela Gilbert-Lurie described an eleventh grade English teacher who spent months overtly flirting with her—telling her, for example, that "he was attracted to me because my short uniform skirt and tight polo shirt were too alluring." At the end of her essay, she wrote that "He was not fired. His only punishment was counseling. He's still everyone's favorite English teacher." Now, it appears, that has changed.
Last night, Katie J.M. Baker at Buzzfeed published a story detailing the turmoil that ensued after the publication of that essay, and naming the teacher in question as Joe Koetters. She scooped us, and her story is good, so read it. Independently, we received the following emails that the schools in question sent out to their constituents, which are being published here for the first time.
The Marlborough School is one of the most elite private day schools for girls in Los Angeles, with tuition well over $30,000. It is the school of choice for the daughters of many of Hollywood's most powerful actors and executives. Yesterday—two weeks after the publication of Gilbert-Lurie's essay—the school sent out the following email:
Dear Marlborough parents, alumnae, and friends,
We are writing to inform you about some difficult and deeply troubling information.
On June 30, 2014, a Marlborough graduate posted an online essay detailing her account of a former teacher's inappropriate communications and behavior, which occurred during the 2011-2012 school year. The School, consistent with its long-standing policies and protocols, promptly investigated and responded to the student's concerns. The essay, however, added details not previously reported to the School. We sincerely regret the suffering our alumna expressed through her essay.
Last week, another graduate came forward alleging an inappropriate physical relationship with the same teacher more than a decade ago. In response to this shocking and heart-breaking report, we immediately notified both the Los Angeles Police Department and Child Protective Services.
At Marlborough, we hold ourselves to the highest academic and personal standards, and there is no priority greater than the safety and well being of our students.
Our commitment to transparency and a full understanding of what occurred compels us to seek the truth. To that end, the Board of Trustees on Friday authorized an independent investigation of this matter and appointed a special investigative committee. This committee will be chaired by Trustee Debra Wong Yang, a partner at the Los Angeles law firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, and a nationally recognized expert in the field of internal investigations. Under Ms. Wong Yang's leadership, the committee will appoint a neutral investigator.
If you have any information that may be helpful to the investigation, or if your daughters are aware of any inappropriate conduct, we encourage you to contact us. We will maintain confidentiality to the extent legally permissible. Please contact Head of School Barbara Wagner at [redacted], or Trustee Debra Wong Yang at [redacted].
Marlborough is committed to keeping you fully informed of developments and the steps the School is taking to address this matter. As it becomes available, additional information will be provided on Marlborough's website. You also should know that we anticipate the media will report on this matter in the coming days.
We want to thank you in advance for your support. As a community, we can and will work through this challenging period with decisiveness, dignity, and a determination to never let this happen again.
Christine C. Ewell, President, Board of Trustees
Barbara E. Wagner, Head of School
That's not all. The teacher in question—who, it seems, had a pattern of sexually harassing students—was not forced out of the teaching profession. It appears that he left Marlborough and went to work at another LA-area high school, Polytechnic School in Pasadena. Polytechnic sent out the following email yesterday:
Dear Poly parents,
As members of the Polytechnic community, you know well our commitment to transparency—no matter how tough the topic may be.
In that spirit, I am writing to let you know about allegations of misconduct while at a prior school by one of our Upper School teachers.
Consistent with its policies, Polytechnic School initiated a thorough investigation. Because Polytechnic School is required to maintain the confidentiality of personnel matters, the school is unable to share additional details. We may report, however, that the teacher in question is no longer employed by Polytechnic School.
The safety and well-being of our students is always our top priority. Before any new employee starts his or her work with us, Polytechnic School conducts a thorough background investigation, including fingerprinting for criminal history and reference checks. That process did occur in this case; Poly considered a range of information and perspectives when making the decision to hire the teacher.
We are not aware of any allegations of misconduct during the teacher's employment at Polytechnic School.
News of Koetters' hiring at Polytechnic can still be found on this page.
Needless to say, the behavior of the schools in question, and the ability of this teacher to remain employed for such a long period of time, raises questions that have not yet begun to be answered.
If you know more about this situation, please comment in the discussion section below, or email Hamilton@Gawker.com.