Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Female Missassauga teacher gets year probation for "affair" with student

Leslie Merlino, a 29 year old former Missassauga, ON teacher who had a sexual affair with a student, was sentenced to a year of probation after continuing contact with that same female student even after a court order prohibited it. Besides the probation, Merlino will be listed as a sex offender for 20 years, and was ordered to submit a DNA sample to Canada's DNA database. The charges Merlino officially plead guilty to were sexual exploitation, breach of probation and failure to comply with a court order.

By all accounts, Merlino was one of the best-liked teachers at the Streetsville school, where she taught Spanish and French to Grade 10 and 11 students, including her young lover.

The friendship between teacher and student blossomed into an infatuation on a European high school trip in March 2006.Later, she stroked the girl's hair and began sending emails. That would lead to an assault charge and a court order to stay away from the student.

From January to September 2007, they exchanged sexually explicit emails and talked frequently on the phone and in person.

They held hands during strolls and met secretly in coffee shops. They kissed and fondled each other in their more private moments. By late summer of 2007, the suspended teacher and former student had become lovers.

The trip to Quebec City Merlino took with her young charge the fall of 2007 did her clean criminal record in, as on October 12, 2007, police officers saw Merlino and her former student get into a car together in Toronto.

Merlino spent 2 1/2 months in jail before being released on conditions which included a curfew. Justice Bruce Durno took that into account in not sentencing Merlino to more jail time, stating that he would have done so if the curfew was not in place. "A career has been lost ... these offences are serious, a flagrant breach of court orders. Regardless of the (victim's) wishes, it was Merlino who was in a position of trust and authority."

The sentence was a joint submission (Canadian version of a plea deal) with Peel Crown prosecutor Kelly Slate and Merlino's defense attorney Gerald Logan. "This is a tragic tale of woman who succumbed to temptation and destroyed her career," Logan said.

Neither the student nor her parents were in court. The student, who cannot be identified, did not file a victim impact statement, and asked to be "left alone" in an email to the Star.

The student's parents, who live in Mississauga, declined to comment.

The 20-year-old's relationship status on Facebook is listed as "engaged."

In a Facebook note "25 things about me," she has written: "Sometimes, I freak out, that I made a mistake. And I shouldn't be with the person I'm with. Other times, I don't know how we've managed to spend so much time apart."

Merlino, who stopped teaching in 2007, had her teaching license permanently revoked Ontario College of Teachers this spring for professional misconduct. She's currently living with her mother in London, ON.

The Canadian age of consent is 16, unless the adult is in a position of trust like a teacher or other professional, in which case the AOC rises to 18. The age of consent, not called the age of protection, was raised from 14 effective May 1, 2008.

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