Education

Media Focus on Teacher-as-Sex-Offender Resurfaces on ’20/20' and ‘SNL’

By Mark Walsh — April 13, 2015 3 min read

The latest in the seemingly never-ending tale of one of the country’s best-known predatory teachers aired Friday night on ABC News’ “20/20.” And though the topic is inherently tragic and serious, teacher-student relationships continue to be played for laughs, as they were on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” over the weekend.

Mary Kay Letourneau, the schoolteacher convicted of child rape over a relationship with a student, who she later married, appeared with Barbara Walters on “20/20.’ The now 53-year-old Letourneau was accompanied by her husband, Vili Fualaau, who is now 31.

In 1997, Letourneau was a married elementary school teacher with four children in Seattle when she had a sexual relationship with Fualaau, who was 13 and had been a student of hers.

After being convicted for child rape, Letourneau was sentenced to 89 months but released after six months. After her release, she ignored a court order to stay away from the boy, and after they were caught together, Letourneau was returned to prison to serve her full original sentence.

They have two daughters, one born just before Letourneau entered prison the first time, the second born in prison.

Letourneau and Fualaau married after her release from prison. She is a registered sex offender and now works as a legal assistant.

Letourneau had given an interview to Walters after her release from prison, and that laid the groundwork for Friday’s “20/20.” Besides Letourneau and Fualaau, Walters also interviewed the couple’s two daughters, who are now teenagers and attend school in the same suburban Seattle school district where Letourneau worked. And we see the family taking selfies in New York City’s Times Square and enjoying an evening of bowling.

Letourneau told Walters she is planning to seek to end her status as a sex offender so she can return to teaching. Her Washington license was revoked.

“Yes, it’s a state license that’s taken, so of course I still have my degree and all my master’s degree credits. I still have it, and I have my experience,” she told Walters.

She has taught math at a college and teaches piano lessons, she said.

“It’s not the same as having a classroom and starting the fall season,” Letourneau said.

Fualaau works at a retail home center and as a DJ at clubs and weddings. A few years ago, Walters noted, he DJ-ed a “Hot for Teacher"-themed party at a club. LeTourneau even showed up.

While “20/20" devoted its full hour to this story, that apparently wasn’t enough. The show promised even more of the interview with LeTourneau and Fualaau when it teams up with the cable channel Investigation Discovery for a new series with Walters called “American Scandal.”

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Although there’s no doubt that teacher-student sex is a serious issue, the LeTourneau story and the other notorious situations that followed have been fodder for late-night comedy shows for years.

The latest was this past weekend’s “Saturday Night Live” on NBC, which had a sketch with spoof news coverage of a trial over a high school teacher’s affair with a student. The basic joke is that after the student (Pete Davidson) and teacher (Cecily Strong) engaged in an “extra credit” project, the student was a hero to his classmates. Or at least to his male classmates.

As part of its award-winning 1998 series on predatory educators (“A Trust Betrayed”), Education Week devoted one story to the unusual set of problems raised when “female educators are cast in the culturally unfamiliar role of sexual predator.”

“With emotional dynamics that are often notably different from those involving men, such cases challenge any number of social stereotypes: Women are victims, not predators; boys who have sex with older women should consider themselves lucky; and love justifies even the most unlikely of matches,” reporter Caroline W. Hendrie wrote. “This and other factors have traditionally led to differences in the way in which sexual misconduct by women teachers is handled by schools, courts, and the victims themselves.”

The sad fact is that because the tragedies of this sort keep coming, so does the comedy.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Education and the Media blog.

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