Buzzfeed's Katie J.M. Baker posted a story last night about the scandal around a popular former English teacher at the elite girls school Marlborough — and his more recent exit from Polytechnic in Pasadena — in the aftermath of a revealing essay at xoJane by a former student. Both of the top private schools sent emails to their families and alumni last night about the teacher, without naming him. Marlborough, located in Hancock Park, also announced an investigation by Debra Wong Yang, the former U.S. Attorney in Los Angeles. It's pretty big stuff for the private school culture in Los Angeles community, and was broken in the media online by Buzzfeed and Gawker, not by any Los Angeles media outlet.
The student, Mikaela Gilbert-Lurie, who is now at Penn, got the story going with a post two weeks ago about the complications of her high school English teacher falling in love with her. She didn't mention Marlborough or the teacher, Joe Koetters, but she didn't have to for a lot of girls at Marlborough to know who she was talking about. Koetters taught at Marlborough for 14 years, most of that time as chairman of the English department, then left for Polytechnic in 2013. From Gilbert-Lurie's essay, titled It Happened to Me: My high school English teacher told me he loved me (and nobody did anything.)
The part of the story that I don’t like telling people is how flattering it was at the beginning. I tend to get a lot more horrified looks and sympathetic nods when I say that my eleventh grade English teacher told me he was in love with me if I omit the part where I was proud to have so much control over a grown man. I guess in retrospect it wasn’t control. Everyone but me could have seen it then, but until it spiraled out of my grasp. I really did think that I was the one pulling the strings. Someone could have warned me, if I had spoken up sooner....
The power was slipping away from me, and I knew what he was doing was wrong, but I was in too deep and it was my fault. He told me that. He said he was attracted to me because my short uniform skirt and tight polo shirt were too alluring. He said that if I hadn’t wanted his attention I wouldn’t have asked to interview him in the first place. He called me a temptress and a tease and told me that I was lucky to have gotten an A on my last paper because if it weren’t for my pretty eyes I wouldn’t have.
When he asked me to meet him after school, I cracked. I went home crying and confided in my brother, begging him not to tell my parents.
There was an investigation at the school but not much came of it, according to Gilbert-Lurie and her parents. The Buzzfeed story quotes from emails between the teacher and student and talks to other former students about involvement that Koetters allegedly had with girls in his classes. Gawker was apparently chasing the story too and follows Buzzfeed with the text of emails sent last night to the Marlborough and Polytechnic communities.
"Dear Marlborough parents, alumnae, and friends," one began. "We are writing to inform you about some difficult and deeply troubling information...."
I've seen no comment yet from Koetters.
Noted: The LA Times rewrote a story last night off the Marlborough statement, without naming Gilbert-Lurie or Koetters.