More punishment for lovesick teacher

June 4, 2008 9:40:36 PM PDT
A 90-day unpaid suspension is too light a punishment for a high school teacher who admitted online that she sought to seduce a 15-year-old male student, a judge has ruled.An arbitrator had recommended the penalty for 39-year-old Colleen McGraham, a tenured teacher at Staten Island's New Dorp High School, who wondered in her blog in June 2005, "Will I ever get over this? Do I want to? I just love him so much."

State Supreme Court Justice Sheila Abdus-Salaam said the arbitrator's recommendation of a 90-day unpaid suspension was "irrational" and "violates a strong public policy" to protect children.

The judge sent the case back for a new penalty.

There was no physical relationship between McGraham and the student. Prosecutors said McGraham, who was 36 during the encounters in 2005, sent the 11th grader e-mails, called him and spoke to him in an attempt to seduce him. But the student instead reported McGraham to another teacher, who then told education officials.

The Department of Education will seek to have McGraham fired during an upcoming hearing, said spokeswoman Margie Feinberg. Meanwhile, she has been assigned to an administrative office and has no contact with students, Feinberg said.

Abdus-Salaam said the arbitrator seemed motivated by the fact that there was never a physical relationship between the McGraham and the student, and the boy had gone to college and "moved on with his life."

But the fact a relationship didn't develop, despite the feelings McGraham expressed in her e-mails and blog entries, "may say more about the student's maturity that the teacher's ability to conduct herself appropriately," the judge said.

The arbitrator had said McGraham was unlikely to repeat the behavior, but the judge disagreed, saying she "continued her inappropriate contacts with (the student) even while acknowledging remorse about her feelings."

Abdus-Salaam also said McGraham did not seek emotional therapy until after her actions were reported by the student and an investigation started.

McGraham, who represented herself at previous hearings, has an unlisted telephone number on Staten Island and could not be reached for comment.

Feinberg said McGraham became an English teacher at Curtis High School on Staten Island in 2001. She was transferred to New Dorp High School in 2002. She was earning $63,285 when she was suspended, Feinberg said.