Teacher fired because school fears her abusive ex-husband

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Domestic violence victim fired from teaching

Carie Charlesworth is out of a job because school officials in California are concerned about the potential threat posed by her ex-husband.

A domestic violence victim who was fired from her teaching job at a Catholic elementary school over worries about her ex-husband's "threatening and menacing" behavior says she is being punished twice for doing nothing wrong.

Carie Charlesworth was told by the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego she won't be returning to Holy Trinity School in the fall due to the potential threat posed by her ex to "the safety of the students, faculty and parents."

Charlesworth and her children had been on indefinite leave from Holy Trinity in El Cajon, Calif., since January, after her ex-husband showed up in the parking lot of the school in violation of a restraining order, triggering a school lockdown, according to diocese officials and Charlesworth's attorney.

"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, speaking out publicly about the case for the first time since she received a termination letter in April.

In the letter, Tom Beecher, director of the Office for Schools for the diocese, explained the reason for Charlesworth's dismissal, saying that court records show her ex-husband has a 20-year history of "threatening and menacing behavior."

"Although we understand he is currently 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," the letter said.

"In 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. Therefore, you will not receive a teaching agreement for the 2013-2014 school year."

The letter added:

"Please understand that this was a very difficult decision to make and we are deeply, deeply sorry about this situation. We will continue to pray for you and your family."

DIOCESE DEFENDS DECISION

Beecher did not return a call from MSN News for comment. He told NBC 7 San Diego the diocese does not comment publicly about personnel issues.

Chancellor Rodrigo Valdivia defended the decision, telling The Associated Press:

"The diocesan office for schools acted responsibly in addressing the Holy Trinity School personnel matter with concern for the safety and well-being of both Carie Charlesworth and the children enrolled at the school."

Charlesworth disagreed.

"They’ve taken away my ability to care of my kids," she told NBC 7. "It's not like I can go out and find a teaching job anywhere."

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Charlesworth will continue to receive her salary through Aug. 9.

Her ex-husband, Martin Charlesworth, is currently serving time in the San Diego Central Jail for domestic violence and stalking/violation of a restraining order, both felonies, according to sheriff's records.

Carie Charlesworth told NBC 7 the domestic violence incident that led to the unraveling of her teaching career happened on a Sunday in January, when she said she wound up calling the sheriff's department three times.

The next morning, she told school officials to be on the lookout for him. The school responded by calling in extra security guards. According to the principal, the school was locked down after Martin Charlesworth's car was spotted in the back parking lot. When police arrived, he had already left, school officials said.

'UPHILL BATTLE'

Carie Charlesworth's attorney, Kenneth Hoyt, said he is considering filing a lawsuit over her firing.

"We definitely want to do something but the theories of what we are going to do, we're still studying," Hoyt told MSN News.

He acknowledged that a successful lawsuit is "an uphill battle" because religious institutions are exempt from anti-discrimination laws in hiring employees, under what's known as "ministerial exception."

Hoyt said while the concern for school safety is very real, the diocese was "driving a serious social problem underground" by firing Charlesworth.

"It just seems like (the diocese is saying) 'the ends justify the means, we've got a lot of people to protect and this is the way to do it,'" he said.

Debbie Tucker, executive director of the National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence, also took issue with the diocese's justification for the firing. Rather than letting Charlesworth go, school officials should have worked with her on better ways to protect her and the rest of the school, Tucker told MSN News via email.

The diocese's response, Tucker said, illustrates that many people think it's solely up to the domestic violence victim to bring about change in the perpetrator.

"Without focus on the offender from the community demanding an end to abusive and threatening behavior, the offender who needs to be our focus of punitive or restrictive consequences gets off the hook," Tucker said.

Charlesworth says she feels trapped.

"How am I going to get a job?" she told 10News.com  "What do I say when they ask, why did you leave your last job? Because my school thought that I was a security threat? Who's going to put me in front of a classroom?"

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