Teacher Sex Scandal: Joelle

Teacher Sex Scandal: Joelle

"I was in shock, disbelief. I was facing 160 years in prison," says Joelle Ogletree, who was accused of sexual misconduct by three students at the high school where she taught. Two days later, she was fired from her job. "I also faced losing my teaching license. The district only told me that rumors were going around about me being involved inappropriately with some students. They would not tell me who was making the allegations or what the allegations were. The only way that I had any clue of what was being said was because the whole town was talking about it. When the allegations were first made, my husband asked me, 'Is there anything that I need to know, that you need to tell me?' And I told him no."

"I trusted my wife," says Joelle's husband, Doug. "I know her very well and I didn't doubt her."

"After the students made those allegations against me I was indicted, and then the criminal saga began," says Joelle. "You know, you never think that you're going to be ..." she pauses, holding back tears, and apologizes before continuing, "Sitting there, having your fingerprints taken. I'm sorry." She pauses again, clearly struggling with her emotions. "No one from the school rallied to support me or stand up for me.
Right before the trial, the state offered me a plea bargain. They wanted me to plead guilty to two counts of public lewdness, do community service, be on probation for two years and give up my teaching license. That decision was the absolute scariest and most difficult thing I had to do in my entire life. If I pled guilty then I'm saying what they said is true."

"She chose not to take it," says Doug. "And I supported her, and we never looked back."

Joelle was intrigued by a recent episode of Dr. Phil in which he said that people who are truly victims of crimes can remember with vivid detail the events that happened. She points out, "These students gave their accounts with tremendous differences in them. One of the students said that he had intercourse with me at my home during a very specific time and date. I was over an hour away at a doctor's office with my daughter. Another student said that I changed clothes out of my color guard uniform into my teaching clothes in front of him. However, it was not possible. I didn't do color guard that year. Many people believe that I'm a pedophile or an adulterous wife. It hurts to know that some people believe those things about you."

"Joelle's done nothing wrong," says Doug resolutely. "We're staying." 

Joelle feels the gravity of her situation. "If I had been convicted and had been sentenced to up to 160 years in prison," she says, "not only would I have had being a mother taken away from me, it would have been my children losing me and them not having a mother."


Back in his studio, Dr. Phil begins by expressing his desire to get all the facts out on the table. "At this point, you have had more than one student accuse you of being sexually intimate with them when they were 14, 15 years old, correct?" he asks. Joelle confirms.

"Did you have sexual interactions with students? Any student? One student, two students, three students, any students?"

"Absolutely not," she says.

"Why would they say that about you?" asks Dr. Phil.

"Nobody can say for sure except for them," she says. "What I would assume is, unfortunately, it's a sort of cool thing for high school boys to talk about their teachers like that. Instead of being shut down, it was allowed to snowball. They didn't want to be called liars. When the school counselor first talked to two of the students about it she interviewed them in the same room together, which I think would have made it a lot harder to say, 'Yeah, I was just making it up,' when you're sitting there with a friend."


"OK, because this wasn't just kind of casual," says Dr. Phil. "They're saying that they had intimate sexual interactions with you, that you had them to your house, that it happened in cars, that it happened in the classroom with the door locked, and you're saying none of it happened ever, never, period."

"Correct," she confirms.

 

Joelle explains what went through her mind as a mother facing the prospect of 160 years in prison. She says, "I tried to make what simple plans I could for my family, in case I wasn't there for them. I bought a coat for my daughter even though it wasn't the season yet because I never knew if I would be able to do that for her or not."

In the summer of 2004 the case went to trial with only two of the students still making allegations against Joelle. On the second day of testimony the state prosecutors asked for a mistrial. "We did not want a mistrial," she explains. "We knew that we were on our way to an acquittal, but the judge granted it anyway. All of the charges were dismissed."



"There really are no words that can begin to describe what this does to your life," she continues. "The past five years have been extremely difficult. The rumors that were going around town had me condemned as a pedophile and an adulterous wife. I would like to believe that my reputation is not ruined, but it's definitely been tarnished. I had to fight to keep my teaching license even though I was never convicted of anything, was never found to be guilty." She shows off a copy of an 80-page ruling from her Austin licensing hearing, in which Joelle says she was found not guilty and the allegations against her were found to be fabricated.

"This has been affecting my children as well," says Joelle. "The school district is not allowing me to volunteer at my daughter's school. There was a school board meeting because I was asking them to reverse that decision." She holds up the shirt that she wore to the school board hearing on which she had ironed a copy of her teaching license to remind the board of her status as a certified teacher.

 

She continues, "There's no reason I should be kept out from volunteering. The school district is treating me as though I'm a threat to the students. I find it very irresponsible of the school district to do what they did to me. What it does is it sends a message to the students that you can say anything you want to say about a teacher. We're not going to check into it. We're not going to care what their side might be and the teacher will be gone."

"You feel like you were mistreated by the school board?" Dr. Phil asks Joelle.



"Absolutely," she says.

"Did you cross the line in any way?" Dr. Phil probes. "I know you say you did not have sexual interactions with them. But we all know in this day and time, particularly people in a position of authority, and in a position of authority with children that are vulnerable to exploitation, that you have to avoid even the appearance of impropriety. Did you do that?"

"I avoided that, yes," Joelle replies.

"There are allegations that you had these boys to your home where some of this sexual interaction took place where there was no one there but you," Dr. Phil says. "Why would you have students to your home?"

"I never had students to my home when no one was there except for me," she says.

"Did you ever play a game called 'I Never'?"

Joelle says, "Yes."

"And did that take a sexual turn?" asks Dr. Phil. "You told us that when you were playing that game, that one of the students introduced sexual content, and it's one of the students that made the allegation."

"Right," says Joelle, explaining, "One of the students said one or two comments, and I told him not to do that, and that was the end of that. The game was not a sexual game, no."

"Did you drive any of these students around in your car, just you and the student?" asks Dr. Phil.

She says, "I took one of the students to his home to get some medication. Other than that " "


"Just the two of you in the car," says Dr. Phil.

"And my daughter," Joelle clarifies.

"So there's no chaperone in the car," says Dr. Phil. "It was just you and the student."

"Right," says Joelle.

Dr. Phil asks Doug for his initial reaction when the allegations against his wife surfaced. "Did you feel like she was treated unfairly?"

"At the time when she was put on leave, we really didn't know anything," says Doug. "So later on as it evolved, yes, I believe she was treated unfairly."

Dr. Phil turns to Joelle's attorney, Tony Connors. "Has the school board erred terribly here?" he asks.

"Absolutely," says Tony. "She has cleared herself through the criminal process and the civil process. The only reason out there is the fact that she has a pending lawsuit." With the help of another attorney, Joelle is suing the school district for denying her due process. "She had a contract. They never gave her due process. They fired her on the allegations alone," says Tony.

 

Dr. Phil addresses Joelle. "At this point if you try to get a job somewhere else, they check your reference and they say, 'Well, she was fired here for allegations of sexual misconduct,' and that's not great on the resume, right?"

"This school district says I can't even volunteer," says Joelle, "And also what I have lost " I spent well over $100,000 defending myself. On top of that, like you said, the loss of a career. We would have had our home paid for within one year. We currently owe more on our home than we paid for it originally. We have credit card debt. We never had credit card debt before. And that's just financial loss, that's not anything about the reputation, about the sleepless nights, about the effect on my children."