Throughout one’s long career through grade school, one is bound to meet one or two teachers that they don’t exactly see eye-to-eye with. It’s pure statistics, really. Throughout those 12 or so years in school, students are faced with a parade of differing personalities and teaching styles.
Some of these may help us to decide upon our futures or positively affect us in a number of ways. Yet there are also other teachers that have a profoundly negative, often traumatizing effect on our growing minds. Especially when they abuse their power in darker, selfish, and sinister ways.
A Competent Teacher
28-year-old math teacher, Jennifer Olajire-Aro was not what you might consider anyone’s “favorite” teacher. This had little to do with her teaching style. By all accounts, Aro was a competent teacher. She had a clean disciplinary record with her school and even received several teaching awards. But the married mother-of-one had a dark secret.
Aro taught pre-calculus and algebra, not easy subjects for most students. One student, in particular, who’ll be referred to as John, was always a bit nervous going into her classroom. This had little to do with the fact that the 17-year-old high school senior struggled with the subject. In fact, John was quite good at math. The problem lay in Mrs. Aro’s behavior towards him.
John’s math teacher was attracted to him. It was not just a fleeting desire to admire him, however. Ms. Aro was sexually attracted to her student. Despite the fact that she was married, she seemed hellbent on the two of them entering into some sort of sexual relationship. In time, her minor flirtations became less ambiguous and more overt and for John, uncomfortable.
The teacher would pull him aside and talk to him about sex before class. During class, she’d make sexual advances at him. When class ended, she picked the conversation right back up where they’d left off. John was no fool. This was math class after all, and he could put two and two together. But what was he supposed to do about it?
Eventually, Aro’s constant flirting became too much for the hormonal student to resist. By November, she had managed to coerce him into having sex with her. Then again in December. They continued to do it several more times in different places. They did it in the school, in her car, and even at her home, with the teacher’s 10-month-old baby asleep nearby.
John soon had enough of the tryst. Despite what his body seemed to want, he felt exceptionally uncomfortable with their random encounters. Unfortunately for him, Aro was not about to lose out on her side-piece of a student. Finally, John put his foot down. He told her that he wasn’t going to do that sort of thing anymore. She didn’t like that, not one bit.
When John resisted, Aro turned to blackmail. She reminded him that he was a senior and was going off to college the following year. She also reminded him that she alone controlled his math grade. If she wanted to, she could ensure that at least that subject would put his college career in jeopardy. John was in a bind.
Part of what soured John on the whole thing, besides the guilt, of course, was the fact that Aro’s sexual advances had become so direct, so public, and so obvious, that everyone seemed to know about them. Even his classmates seemed to know that he was her personal “boy toy.” Worse yet, it seemed as though his other teachers knew about the affair as well.
Burke High School had a close-knit community of teachers and administrators. There was no way that school officials didn’t know what was going on, especially if the other teachers knew. The fact that it was in plain view and that people knew and didn’t say anything or report it, made John’s predicament doubly traumatic.
Teasing and Control
High school is a place of whispers and rumors. It always has been. There was no way that Aro could have kept her bad behavior under wraps. Frankly, she wasn’t the type to do such a thing anyway. She seemed to flaunt her control over John and as a result, John’s classmates teased him for being a “teacher’s pet.” It was time for John to make a decision.
Enough is Enough
John hadn’t even told his mother about what was going on. He was afraid her involvement would ensure that Aro lowered his grades just as she’d threatened. She had all the control. Finally, John could take it no longer. He refused her again, this time telling her that he wasn’t doing it anymore. “You do what you got to do,” he told the teacher.
Denial and Consequences
Incensed by his presumptuousness and his refusal to satiate her rampant sexual appetites, Aro did just as she said she would. She lowered John’s grade from an A to a B. It was a power move, but it only served to ensure that the now liberated student would take action against her.
This was because the South Carolina district had been facing some serious public criticism for its handling of another sexual allegation case against a former employee of one of their other schools. This involved Marvin Gethers, a teacher who had strangely been promoted in 2014 after an IT specialist found child pornography on his school laptop.
Gethers was also made “Employee of the Year” in 2015 after the pornography was found. He was arrested in 2016, but only after two children came forward saying that he had molested them. He was charged with sexual exploitation of a minor and several counts of criminal sexual misconduct. He never served any time though, as he died in July 2017 of heart failure.
The district had behaved in much the same way then as they had with Aro. They fired him as soon as they learned the allegations against him, though not after finding the pornography. This oversight was remedied by a change of the guard. Most of the administrators in place in 2014 were replaced. Unfortunately, the new ones were making the same mistakes all over again.
At the time of Gethers’ lawsuit, the district wisely sought outside counsel in order to investigate the allegations. At the same time, the hired hands would help manage how the district handled the situation. Their goal was to advise on ways to avoid a situation like that from happening again. They obviously failed.
Mark Peper, who is currently representing John and his mother in their own lawsuit, spoke out about the district’s willful ignorance about what was happening right under their noses. “They’d known about the propensity of their employees to have some type of sexual exploitations, and therefore they were all on notice,” he said.
“It’s just clear to me that they just didn’t care,” Peper added. “It’s just a complete lack of oversight and supervision from the district itself. It’s a pattern.” Despite everything that had happened before and everyone who witnessed what was going on, the administration failed to act, and that is inexcusable.
As expected, a school spokeswoman for the Charleston County School District has offered no comment on the pending litigation or official charges against Jennifer Olajire-Aro. The former teacher was placed on administrative leave and has since been fired from the district. She is being charged with sexual battery of a student.
John’s attorney, Mark A. Peper, made the following statement about the case, according to Post and Courier: “Where the safety, protection, and well-being of our students is paramount, acts such as these and others by employees under the direct supervision of the CCSD are outrageous, and must be regarded as atrocious and utterly intolerable. If the district won’t fix the problem, the courts will.”