Help! My Ex Used to Take Advantage of His Students, and He’s Still Teaching.

Advice on manners and morals.
July 11 2013 6:15 AM

Minor Infraction

A boarding school hired my ex despite his sordid history with female students. Should I tell?

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photo by Teresa Castracane.

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Dear Prudence,
Three years ago, I divorced after only 18 months of marriage. My husband was a university professor, and he had been having a nonsexual but emotionally intimate relationship with a student. His behavior became suspicious, I asked him point blank, and he answered that he had serious feelings for said student. I wanted to repair our marriage, he did not, and we divorced. During the divorce, many details of similar "extracurricular activities" came to light. Prior to becoming a professor he was a high school teacher. He was fired from one high school position for having an inappropriate relationship with a young female student (again, nonsexual, but emotionally intimate). When he applied for a job at the school where he previously taught, they declined to hire him and explained that it was because several parents had come forward about inappropriate interactions with their daughters. Following our divorce, I discovered that he had entered into a relationship with another student at his university, this time sexual, and that he had lost his job as a result. I understood that they gave him an opportunity to resign, which he took. He moved away with this former student, and we are not in touch. Recently, I became curious as to his whereabouts and Googled him. I discovered that he is teaching at a prestigious co-ed boarding school. He lives at the school with the students. What is my responsibility in this situation? Aside from my bout of curiosity, I have moved on from this relationship and have made a happy life post-divorce. I would like to ignore what I saw, because I have no interest in inviting his presence into my life again. I assume a prestigious school does a background and reference check, and that they didn’t find anything unsatisfactory. Still, there is a part of me that thinks—what if they don't know? What if I had a daughter at that school, and someone out there knew about this teacher's proclivities and said nothing? I have little to substantiate what I know, except that I could refer the principal to his previous employers. I feel like Eve—I ate from the tree of knowledge, and really wish I hadn't. What do I owe myself and the students at this school?

—Eve

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Dear Eve,
It's likely that the school that hired your ex-husband did do some sort of background check but found nothing alarming. What you know about him—his emotional and sexual exploitation, his grooming of his female students—could well have been under the radar of the due diligence. Your sleazy ex appears savvy enough not to get into bed with underage students; he waits until they are no longer minors. So when his current employer searched for a criminal record, they didn’t find one. Yes, he got fired from one school, but that information likely didn’t emerge in a cursory credential check. To avoid lawsuits, most places of employment these days simply confirm that someone worked there on a given set of dates. And since your ex was allowed to resign from his university post, all he had to do to explain his departure was to say he realized his heart lay with high school students (for sure!). I’m sure if the head of this boarding school had a whiff of your ex’s modus operandi, your ex would not be allowed to act as in loco parentis for a bunch of teenagers. I understand that you regret your idle Googling because, though your curiosity has been sated, you now find yourself with a moral dilemma about this predator. I think the school needs to know. However, you’re kind of stuck because while you’ve collected an alarming pattern of stories, your documentation is almost nonexistent. Were you to be identified as the source of this information, you could face a defamation suit. So I say it’s time to write the good old anonymous letter, and arrange to send it from a state other than the one where you reside. Enumerate the facts you've related here and stick to them—no character assassination—and state your concern about someone with this personal history being in the teaching profession. Send it to the head of school and the officers of the board of trustees. Let’s hope it puts a crimp in their summer vacations and forces them to take quick action. But be aware that even if your ex leaves this prep school, unless he gets nabbed by the criminal justice system, there is likely another teaching position in his future.

—Prudie

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Dear Prudie,
Five years ago during the summer, when I was 19, my friend and I took a one-day trip to a nearby city. We left late at night after I finished my shift as a cashier. When I picked her up, her mother got so mad that we were leaving so late that she kicked her out of the house along with her dog. While we were in city that day, we left the dog in the car. When we returned to the car in the evening, the dog was dead. This was the worst mistake of my life. I think about it all the time, especially now, when it’s so hot. I feel such pangs of regret and guilt that sometimes I feel like I am going to have a panic attack. I am so ashamed and wonder what we were thinking. My mom made a point that I didn't leave the dog in the car with malicious intent. It was a mistake that I need to learn from and move on. I've asked my boyfriend why he doesn't hate me and he’s said because it was a mistake. I know everyone makes mistakes, but is mine unforgivable? Should I not ever be allowed to have a dog of my own? I know that I didn't do it on purpose, and I love animals. My mom suggested seeing a therapist if I cant stop thinking about it. I don't know what a therapist might say that I haven't thought of or considered already. Do you have any advice on how to cope?

—Dog Lover

Dear Dog,
Since you keep going over the event, consider the precipitating one. Your friend’s mother sent the family dog off late at night for a road trip with a couple of teenage girls. I hope that adult has had a chance during her own sleepless nights to consider the consequences of her temper. You and your friend were a pair of young dopes whose thoughtlessness resulted in a dog’s death. But five years later it is way past time for you to stop beating yourself up over a mistake. Gene Weingarten won a Pulitzer Prize for his harrowing account of parents who, distracted by daily events, made the deadly error of forgetting they left their baby in the back seat. His piece should help give you some perspective. By now, you may have gotten so hooked on endlessly punishing yourself that you can’t see a way to forgiveness. But the world is not made better by your being mired in guilt. You love animals, so improve some of their lives and start volunteering at a shelter. I think reconnecting with dogs, seeing their tails wag at your arrival, can bring you the healing you deserve. If it doesn’t, find a cognitive therapist who can help you address your obsessive thoughts. The people who love you best are right—you have suffered enough.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
My husband and I bought our first house in an urban neighborhood that is friendly, but the lots are very small. My son has the mildest autism spectrum disorder, and when he has a meltdown a couple of times a month he gets physically and verbally aggressive. He's had a full medical and neurophysical work up and we're doing everything we can to reduce these events. The experts have told us the best response to this behavior is to take him outside until he calms down. Once outside he will yell and curse at the parent with him and threaten to break windows and doors. He screams things like "Stop! You're hurting me!" even when no one is touching him. My question is: What do I say to the neighbors? A few know about his disability but most do not as it isn't apparent apart from these meltdowns. I want people to know we're sorry to disturb them, but we need to use the outdoors to help our son. I also want to avoid calls to CPS. How do I help my neighbors understand and accept my son?

—Worried Mom

Dear Worried,
I lived in a neighborhood like yours when our daughter was little, and it really is a wonderful thing to have a sense of community. You say people are friendly, so since you are the new arrivals, herald this by having a neighborhood open house one weekend afternoon. Your neighbors will get to put a name to your new faces and see that you are a loving family. If your son is fine during this, you needn’t say anything. But if he has difficulty, you can mention matter-of-factly to people that he has mild autism and sometimes events get overwhelming. I’m going to bet your neighbors will react compassionately and understand how difficult parenthood can sometimes be. Then the next time your son melts down, afterward you can say to those on either side of you that you hope they weren’t disturbed, but that doctors have suggested being outside is therapeutic when your son has an outburst. Your confident manner in handling this will be reassuring to your neighbors, and to your boy.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
I just found out that my ex-boyfriend is running for state legislature. I have potentially damaging information about him that he told me himself while we were dating and was not ashamed for others to know. I believe voters need to hear. My ex used to work in the porn industry. So far, he's been leaving that fact out of his official bio. Do I anonymously get the information out to the public? He was a terrible boyfriend, he lied continuously, cheated on me, etc. That he used to work in an industry that I believe takes advantage of young women and promotes harmful values I think is something voters should know. I truly feel that he would be a bad elected official and is only doing it for personal ego reasons. Is it wrong for me to want to share the truth?

—Concerned Citizen

Dear Concerned,
If “ego reasons” were a disqualification for political office, we would have to find a form of government that didn’t require human beings to run it. If sexual fidelity were a prerequisite for serving, we’d also have a lot of elections with no candidates. Before you act, try to separate your own hurt from your concern about the harm your ex could do to the public. But if you truly think his essential character is so dishonest and perfidious that he will exploit the public trust, let the local newspaper know about those interesting professional years your former is leaving off his bio. There's a good argument to make that voters should weigh that a candidate's private sector experience includes a career in porn. You could indeed do this anonymously, and since your ex used to boast about his exploits, the information could have come from any number of sources. Here's to women stopping the rats in their lives from doing more harm!  

—Prudie

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Emily Yoffe is a regular Slate contributor. She writes the Dear Prudence column. 

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