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Charismatic Teacher Accused Of Hitting On His Prep School Students Kept His Job Until A Student Complained In XO Jane
Following an XO Jane article in which a woman described the inappropriate advances of her high school English teacher, an investigation has been launched at an all-girls private school in Hancock Park. Mikaela Gilbert-Lurie, now a philosophy student at the University of Pennsylvania, published her account in XO Jane's 'It Happened To Me' section. She reveals that it all began in the 2011-12 school year when she emailed her 11th grade English teacher, asking if she could interview him for a newspaper article. "It's a date," he responded.
During the course of the interview, she said that he talked with her about poetry and flirted with her and touched her knee. He told her he found her short skirt and tight polo shirt—part of her school’s uniform—"too alluring," that she was a tease who wanted his attention and that he only gave her an A on one of her papers because she had "pretty eyes." Initially, she hid the relationship though it made her feel uncomfortable and caused her trouble sleeping because she felt ashamed and that it was her fault. He called her a temptress and a tease. Finally, after the teacher asked to meet Gilbert-Lurie after school, she told her brother.
Her brother then printed out all the emails the teacher had ever sent her and talked to their parents, who took it to the school. The teacher was punished with counseling, but not fired.
He's still everyone's favorite English teacher, and until the day I graduated he stared at me. Then he left to teach at another school. This is the first time I've told this story publicly, and I'm sorry there's not a more satisfying ending. Some things just leave you feeling empty.
Following the article's publication, Gilbert-Lurie told Buzzfeed's Katie J.M. Baker that she received eight messages on Facebook from former students who had had similar experiences with the same teacher. Despite the fact that she had not mentioned the teacher's name, the other women knew just who she meant.
The teacher was then identified publicly as Joe Koetters, who worked at Marlborough School in Hancock Park, which costs over $30,000 a year to attend, for 14 years. He then moved to Polytechnic in Pasadena in 2013. Gilbert-Lurie and her mother warned the school about the allegations against him, but he stayed on—until Buzzfeed inquired about him. Koetters has been characterized as a charismatic, unorthodox teacher who often used literature and banter to flirt with his students. Buzzfeed anonymously interviewed several of his former students during his time at Marlborough, who said he not only flirted with them, but would pit the teenagers who had crushes on him against each other. He also allegedly complained about his marriage to students. Other women reported that flirtatious conversations turned into the same knee-touching that Gilbert-Lurie said she experienced. One student identified as 'Mariah' recounts a conversation she says she had with the Koetters.
It was during a discussion about an essay on Disgrace, the J.M. Coetzee novel in which a student sleeps with her English teacher. Mariah told Koetters that she wanted to write about predators and prey. "He was like, 'Just because someone is in a position of POWER over someone else doesn’t mean the relationship can’t be mutual,'" she said. "He told me that if we had sex, it could be mutual, it could be love."
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.
Marlborough has also put together a committee to investigate the allegations led by Debra Wong Yang, who sits on the school's Board of Trustees and is a parter at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, an L.A. law firm that works with internal investigations.
Additionally, Polytechnic sent an email out to the parents of their students saying he no longer worked there and that they have had no reports of misconduct by Koetters during his time there.
Marlborough claims to have not known about certain elements of Gilbert-Lurie's ordeal until the essay was published, including that he touched her knee, though Gilbert-Lurie and her family say they told the school at the time.