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Former Senn High School Teacher, Theater Director Joel Ewing Accused Of Repeatedly Sexually Abusing Student At School

CHICAGO (CBS) -- A now-former teacher and theater director at Senn High School in the Edgewater neighborhood stood accused Tuesday of sexually abusing a student at the school for several years.

As CBS 2's Charlie De Mar reported Tuesday night, the Cook County State's Attorney's office said in a bond court proffer that Joel Ewing, 40, first met the victim, now 21, when she was in eighth grade and auditioning to study in a theater pilot program at Senn, 5900 N. Glenwood Ave. At the time, Ewing was about 32, prosecutors said.

Joel Ewing
Senn High School teacher and theater director Joel Ewing is accused of sexually assaulting a student. (Credit: Chicago Police)

The victim went on to attend Senn from 2012 until her graduation in 2016, prosecutors said.

During the victim's sophomore year, Ewing began communicating with the girl often – including texting that went on all hours of the night that was of a romantic nature and had nothing to do with school, prosecutors said. The girl was about 15 at the time, while Ewing was 34, prosecutors said.

In 2014, when the victim was a junior, she and Ewing ate lunch alone together on a daily basis, prosecutors said. Ewing met the defendant in hidden rooms in the school where he would grope and touch her inappropriately, prosecutors said.

That happened more than 10 times, and Ewing told the girl not to tell anyone, prosecutors said.

In January 2015, when the victim was 17 and a junior, she and Ewing traveled to an acting festival in downstate Normal for four or five days, prosecutors said. They stayed in a hotel, and Ewing asked the victim to come to his room where they took off their clothes and lay together in bed, prosecutors said.

After the school trip, Ewing meet the victim behind locked doors in the school, where he allegedly performed sex acts on her and had her perform sex acts on him, prosecutors said. Ewing is married and a father, and the student also went to Ewing's house multiple times starting during her junior year and always left before Ewing's wife got home, prosecutors said.

The victim stopped seeing Ewing by the spring of 2017, when she was a 19-year-old college freshman, prosecutors said.

The following year, the victim told a therapist about the alleged abuse, prosecutors said. The therapist was a mandatory reporter and made a police report, but honored the victim's request to remain anonymous, prosecutors said.

The victim herself made a police report in July of this year, and was upset that Ewing still works with young people as a theater director, prosecutors said.

Ewing was arrested on Monday, and admitted to the sex acts with the victim on Senn property, prosecutors said.

Ewing, of the Arcadia Terrace neighborhood, is charged with one felony count of criminal sexual assault with a victim ages 13 to 17.

Senn Principal Mary Beck issued a letter to parents Tuesday about Ewing's arrest.

"I know this is difficult news for our entire community, and our counselors, social workers, and psychologists are available for students who need support," Beck wrote. "At Senn, we remain committed to providing our students with a safe, positive learning environment where they can reach their full potential."

In addition to his role at Senn, an undated biography on the Steppenwolf Theatre Company website said Ewing served as the artistic director of LiveWire Chicago – described as "a collective of artists who create theatre that reflects the current cultural landscape of our community through productions of original and contemporary works."

He appeared as an actor in "The 13th of Paris" by Mat Smart at the Steppenwolf, the biography said.

Ewing also has a biography on the TimeLine Theatre Company website, which described him as co-artistic director of a student-driven theater company called The Yard. The bio blurbs said Ewing also had performance credits with several other local theater companies, including the Strawdog, New Leaf, Next, Jackalope, and The Hypocrites theater companies.

Ewing's bond was set at $150,000 on Tuesday, according to the Cook County Sheriff's office. He remained in custody Tuesday night, and will be placed on electronic monitoring if he does make bond and is released, the Sheriff's office said.

He is due back in court Oct. 7.

CPS said Ewing was removed from Senn in July, when the allegations surfaced. Parents were notified on July 26, Senn said.

The allegations against Ewing piled on top of a recent federal inspection, calling for a complete overhaul in the way the Chicago Public Schools handle sexual abuse cases.

The investigation said CPS "inexcusably failed" to protect students. The U.S. Department of Education is requiring CPS to provide a second independent review of complaints that may have been mishandled, develop a process for responding to complaints, and change the district's Title IX procedures to ensure an impartial investigation.

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