Domestic violence victim Carie Charlesworth shares her story with NBC 7 reporter Steven Luke about being fired from Holy Trinity School in El Cajon after a dispute involving her ex-husband who is currently in jail. She had worked at the district for 14 years.
A San Diego teacher was fired by Holy Trinity School following a domestic violence incident involving her ex-husband.
Second-grade teacher Carie Charlesworth is out of a job, but not for anything she did in the classroom. Her school district considers her a liability and too unsafe to have around following a domestic violence dispute that happened earlier this year.
A letter sent to Charlesworth said that school officials are concerned about her ex-husband's "threatening and menacing behavior," and as a result they "cannot allow" her to continue teaching at the Holy Trinity School.
"They’ve taken away my ability to care for my kids,” said Charlesworth. “It’s not like I can go out and find a teaching job anywhere.”
The mother of four children didn’t think this would ever be her story to tell, but she is using her name and showing her face in hopes of bringing attention to a larger problem.
It’s a story that has domestic violence advocates outraged, fearing it will only reinforce an age-old problem where victims stay silent — but equally concerned are the school's parents, not wanting their kids in the middle of it.
“Basically, we’d had a very bad weekend with him, we’d called the sheriff’s department three times on Sunday with him,” said Charlesworth, referring to an incident in January that put her leave of absence in motion.
She went to her principal at Holy Trinity School in El Cajon the following morning and told the principal to be on the lookout for her ex-husband. As many domestic violence cases go, this one has a trail of restraining orders and 911 calls. When Charlesworth’s ex-husband showed up in the school parking lot, the school went into lockdown.
Charlesworth and her four kids, who also attended Holy Trinity School, have not been back since the January incident. A letter was sent home to parents the following day, explaining the situation and noting Charlesworth and her children were being put "on an indefinite leave.”
While Charlesworth’s husband went to jail on two felony charges, she says she felt like a criminal too.
“And that’s what it felt like, the kids and I were being punished for something we didn’t even do,” she told NBC 7 San Diego.
Three months later, another letter arrived in the mail delivering a crushing blow. Charlesworth was fired for good, and after 14 years in the district not allowed to teach at any other Diocesan school.
The letter stated:
"We know from the most recent incident involving you and Mrs. Wright (the principal) while you were still physically at Holy Trinity School, that the temporary restraining order in effect were not a deterrent to him. Although we understand he is current incarcerated, we have no way of knowing how long or short a time he will actually serve and we understand from court files that he may be released as early as next fall. In the interest of the safety of the students, faculty and parents at Holy Trinity School, we simply cannot allow you to return to work there, or, unfortunately, at any other school in the Diocese."
When asked for a response, Tom Beecher, Director of the San Diego Diocese Office for Schools wrote in an email to NBC 7 San Diego: “The diocese does not make public comment about personnel issues.”
Several parents at Holy Trinity, not disclosing their names out of safety concerns, said the district did the right thing in a no-win situation because they feared for the safety of their own children. Several parents mentioned being part of a movement to “pull kids out of the school” if Charlesworth returned.
“I mean that’s why women of domestic violence don’t come forward, because they’re afraid of the way people are going to see them, view them, perceive them, treat them,” said Charlesworth.
A 2011 study by Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center shows Charlesworth isn’t alone: Nearly 40 percent of survivors in California reported being fired or feared termination because of domestic violence.
Charlesworth’s attorney Kenneth Hoyt, who intends to file a lawsuit on her behalf, said it may be an uphill climb because of something called "Ministerial Exception.” As part of her duties Charlesworth taught religion, and even though it was a small part of her daily lesson plan, there's legal precedence showing she can be fired without cause just like a priest or pastor.
“I have not been back to a Catholic church since this happened” said Charlesworth, who admits her life has been turned upside down because “everything I thought I had, I don’t.”
She is being paid through August, but doesn’t know where she’ll turn next. Her ex-husband is scheduled to be released from Jail at the end of June.
To learn about more resources that help domestic violence victims, visit the YWCA website Becky's House.
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