For three years, a regularly updated Web site describing me as a “psycho” and my late mother as a “perverted drug addict” was available on the Internet. Another high school prank, maintained by a bullying classmate? Unfortunately not. The site was created by my former high school English teacher.
Currently, 46 states, including my home state of California, have passed laws to prevent cyberstalking. None specifically addresses the possibility of teachers cyberstalking students. Stories of students cyberstalking teachers abound, but the reverse is almost never publicized. California law bans making online threats, even if there is “no intent of actually carrying it out.”
Mr. Stone*—the advisor for the student newspaper—might have been kooky, but he didn’t seem like a stalker. He proudly displayed a troll doll collection in class and got angry if students didn’t comment on his new ties. When he asked me to be the editor-in-chief of the school paper my sophomore year, I agreed.
Things became strange when he started keeping me after class—not just to discuss editorial matters but to complain about his problems with school administrators and to gossip about other students.
For instance, one day after class I said, “I wonder where Mallory is.” “Ah, she’s probably at Claire’s with her friends,” Stone said. “She dresses like a slut.”
I was shocked because I’d never heard a teacher refer to a student that way. He asked me to keep it “confidential.” Naively, I did. But I still remembered my mother saying it’s a bad sign when adults ask children to keep things “confidential.”
My mother was a conservative blogger, and I’ve kept a blog of my own since I was 13. At the beginning of the semester, I’d shown it to Stone as a writing sample. He read it constantly, often referring to entries during class. One day, while I was having lunch with some friends, he approached me, saying he knew about “The Horse,” a code name I used for a crush I had. I was shocked. Only my friends knew about The Horse.
“Why would a 50-something year old man care about a teenage girl’s crushes?” I wondered.
When I struck up a conversation during class with the sports editor, whom I had developed a crush on, Stone called me over to his desk as class let out—something he always seemed to do whenever I talked to a boy.
“I have to talk to him about something,” I said, gesturing to the sports editor. “No, that can wait,” Stone insisted. I noticed beads of sweat on his forehead, and his hand firmly patting the chair a bit too close to him. He wanted to know why I’d seemed cold to him lately. I explained I was a student and he was the teacher.
“But …what happened to your playful side, the side I see on your blog?”
“That side I reserve for my friends, those close to me, or my readers,” I said. “You’re my teacher, and I’m a student, and the things you tell me you should really be telling your wife.”
I left the classroom feeling uneasy at what I had said. He looked baffled.
When my mother picked me up, I told her I felt uncomfortable around my teacher. She told me to tell the principal about my concerns the next day—but that night, I wrote about them on my blog. The next day, Stone read my entry aloud to all his classes, with what my friends described as “a red, flushed face.”
Overnight, I became a social pariah. Because someone wrote on my blog that Stone was like “a pervert,” another reader thought I had accused him of molestation. Stone accused me of “libel and slander,” though under the law, I’d done neither.
That weekend, Stone left over 20 comments on my mother’s blog as well as mine, forcing us to ban him a dozen times. He signed his comments “Troll Dolls,” or “Troll Dolls Have Big Smiles.” I mentioned to my mother that he and his twin brother had once cornered me and a friend in a private chat room when we’d been instant-messaging each other online.At that point, she contacted the principal.
School administrators told Stone to stop commenting on our blogs, then suspended him for a day. He was so angry he quit—but not before coming to work in a tuxedo and encouraging his students to hold a protest against the administration on his last day. For months afterward he kept in e-mail contact with some of his favorite students to talk about me. He bought a Web domain in my mother’s name and maintained spoof blogs, supposedly written by me and my mother, suggesting we’d killed our cat in a ritual sacrifice, that the Bush administration planned to deport my mother as a terrorist, and that the Pope had declared her the antichrist.
After my mother’s death in 2007, a group of her friends convinced the Internet host to dismantle the site for good. But to this day, Stone remains unapologetic for his actions.
Maia Lazar ([email protected]) is a graduate of the University of California-San Diego interning at the National Journalism Center in Washington, DC. *Name has been changed.