(CN) – A 36-year-old teacher should not lose her job for exchanging romantic e-mails with a 15-year-old male student, a New York appellate division ruled.
M.S. was a student in Colleen McGraham’s English class and was in the poetry club she advised. McGraham also advised M.S.’s theater group.
McGraham loaned the boy books such as “Catcher in the Rye” and “Fahrenheit 451,” but also let him borrow “Harold and Maude,” a 1972 movie about a sexual relationship between a teenage boy and an older woman.
McGraham eventually asked M.S. if it was “crazy” to “think that there was something between us,” according to M.S.
M.S. told another teacher, who advised him to tell the principal.
Later, M.S.’s mother and an investigator posed as M.S., eliciting more responses from McGraham, who wrote of her distress that M.S. had stopped talking to her:
“Because we have both been confused, I have wanted us to talk,” she wrote. “But that seems to create problems for both of us. When I have tried to talk to you, you seem to run a bit in the opposite direction. And my nervousness leads me to maybe maybe not be entirely forthright. There is so much I would like to tell you, to discuss with you. But even now writing this, there is fear. You, I am sure, understand the risks involved for me. But you have no idea how happy it makes me to hear from you. And as far as where I am standing, there is only one place I would like to be standing. God, help me!”
After McGraham told an independent hearing officer that she had learned her lesson and was seeking therapy, the officer suspended her for 90 days and transferred her to another school.
That wasn’t enough of a punishment for the New York City School District, which took the case to court. New York County vacated the suspension and remanded the case for a more severe penalty.
However, the justices of the Manhattan-based 1st Appellate Division reversed the decision, ruling that the suspension and transfer constituted sufficient punishment.
“The penalty imposed here is not so lenient as to be arbitrary and capricious,” the justices wrote.
“The hearing officer’s conclusion that (McGraham) was not like to repeat her actions was necessarily a determination based on (her) credibility, and he was in far superior position than (the lower court) to make that determination,” the court concluded.