A former student at Senn High School in Edgewater was sexually abused and assaulted by her theater teacher, including at a downstate hotel while on an overnight school trip, prosecutors said.
Joel Ewing, 40, allegedly admitted to detectives that he assaulted the now 21-year-old woman, who was 15 when she began receiving texts from Ewing that “were of a romantic nature,” Cook County prosecutors said during a bail hearing Tuesday.
The charges are the latest to rock Chicago Public Schools, which has been embroiled in controversy over sexual abuse involving its students and employees and has been accused by the federal government of improperly investigating thousands of sex abuse cases.
Ewing, who lives in West Ridge, faces a single count of criminal sexual assault, but prosecutors told Judge Arthur Wesley Willis that he could end up facing multiple felonies.
Ewing has also been involved with several theater companies in the city. An undated artist profile of Ewing on the Steppenwolf’s website announced he was recently named artistic director of LiveWire Chicago and appeared as an actor in the Steppenwolf’s production of “the 13th of Paris.”
Ewing’s profile on the TimeLine Theatre Company’s website listed him as the co-artistic director of the “youth-driven theatre company The Yard.”
Theater representatives couldn’t immediately be reached for comment Tuesday.
An assistant public defender for Ewing said he resigned from his position with Chicago Public Schools over the summer.
The school’s principal, Mary Beck, said in a letter to parents Tuesday that administrators were made aware of the allegations against Ewing on July 26 and that he was removed from his position. But as of Tuesday afternoon, Ewing’s school email address remained displayed on a school web page for auditions to the theater program and the school’s website listed him as a “teacher” in the staff directory.
DCFS told police, not CPS
A therapist the woman began seeing after enrolling in college reported Ewing’s behavior to police last year while honoring the woman’s preference at the time to remain anonymous, prosecutors said.
Chicago police said they were contacted by the state’s Department of Children and Family Services in January 2018 about an allegation involving Ewing, but the victim wanted to remain anonymous and investigators ultimately suspended the case. Police couldn’t determine Tuesday if they shared the allegation with CPS officials.
A spokesman for DCFS said the agency contacted police, but did not inform CPS officials about the allegations at the time, despite knowledge that the victim was an alleged student of Ewing. A spokesman said they were trying to determine why CPS wasn’t notified.
The woman then came forward this year and filed her own police report, concerned that Ewing was still working with children, prosecutors said.
The woman first met Ewing when she was an eighth grade student auditioning to study in Senn High School’s pilot theater program, and she then went on to enroll at the school in 2012, prosecutors said.
During her sophomore year they allegedly began communicating by text.
In 2014, when the girl was a 16-year-old junior, they would often eat lunch alone together in “hidden rooms” at the high school and Ewing would grope her and rub himself against her, prosecutors said.
In 2015, the girl, then 17, traveled with the school to the acting festival in downstate Normal and they stayed in a hotel. Prosecutors said Ewing texted the girl to come to his room, and they got undressed and laid together in his bed.
After the trip, the two continued to meet in secret, including at Ewing’s home when his wife was gone, and Ewing began sexually assaulting the girl, prosecutors said.
At multiple times during high school, Ewing told the girl not to tell anyone what was happening, prosecutors said, but she told a friend around the end of high school.
When the woman moved on to college, she “terminated the encounters with” Ewing, prosecutor said.
Teacher allegedly admits wrongdoing
Ewing, who has never been arrested before, was taken into custody Monday, according to prosecutors. While speaking with detectives, he allegedly admitted to sexually assaulting the student on multiple occasions at Senn High School when she was 17 years old.
Ewing’s public defender noted Ewing’s lack of criminal history and said Ewing had been married for 14 years and has a young child.
Two women who attended Ewing’s hearing declined to comment.
Judge Willis set his bail at $150,000, additionally ordering Ewing to submit to electronic monitoring if he posts bond.
His next court date was set for Oct. 7.