Lesbian Affair with Student Wrecked Teacher’s Career

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Thursday September 17, 2009

Was it a case of amor fou, an attraction that is foolish and destructive--but irresistible? Was it a case of a trusted adult breaching professional ethics? The moral meaning of the case might be debated, but Canadian law is very clear: a teacher violated statute and professional standards when she engaged in a sexual affair with a female student, who was a minor when the first physical contact took place.

A Sept. 14 Toronto Star article detailed how the affair progressed from a gentle caress to a sexual affair between 39-year-old Leslie Merlino and an unnamed 20-year-old former student, who was 17 when the first flirtations began.

Merlino was sentenced on Sept. 14 to mandatory registration on a sex offender's Web site, where she must remain listed for the next 20 years.

The former teacher was also required to submit DNA to the state.

Two years to the day before sentencing, Merlino had pled guilty to a charge of common assault for physical contact with the student with sexual intent when the student was still legally a minor.

After that plea, Merlino was ordered to stay away from the girl, but when Merlino was contacted by the young woman, that order was ignored: the two became lover in the summer of 2007 and enjoyed a weekend together in Quebec two years ago, the article said.

The attraction between student and teacher began in 2006, on a school trip to Spain, the article said. At some point, Merlino stroked the girl's hair--a gesture charged with sexual meaning that led to the common assault charge.

Thar first conviction meant the end of Merlino's teaching career. Still, things went further, leading to her second conviction on charges of breach of probation and sexual exploitation--although the former student declined to file a victim's impact statement.

But the court ruled that even if the young woman had renewed contact, Merino was the one charged with abiding by the terms of her first conviction.

Said the judge in the case, "Regardless of the wishes [of the young woman], it was Merlino who was in a position of trust and authority."

However, the sentence did not order Merlino to keep away from the former student. The article observed that the two women are free to pick up their affair should they wish, though it is not known if they are still romantically involved.

Neither the young woman nor her parents would comment, the Star reported.

A Sept. 15 follow-up article offered a more complete version of events, noting that the young woman lists herself as being "engaged" on her Facebook page, and quoting Merino's attorney, Gerald Logan, who said, "This is a tragic tale of woman who succumbed to temptation and destroyed her career."

Was it indeed a tragic tale of doomed love? Or an inexcusable violation of a teacher's sacred trust to maintain proper boundaries with a young person in her charge? Or both?

For the courts, the story ends with Merlino's sentencing.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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