Fault Lines

A pioneering humanities program shaped a generation of students and brought acclaim to a public high school in Los Angeles.

But beneath the excellence lurked a culture of abuse.






By Seyward Darby

The Atavist Magazine, No. 130


Seyward Darby is editor in chief of The Atavist Magazine. She is the author of the book Sisters in Hate: American Women on the Front Lines of White Nationalism. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, Harper’s, The Guardian, The New Republic, and other publications, and she was a cohost of the Atavist podcast No Place Like Home.

Editor: Jonah Ogles
Art Director: Ed Johnson
Copy Editor: Sean Cooper
Fact Checker: Kyla Jones
Illustrator: Hellovon
Researchers: Hailey Konnath and David Mark Simpson

Published in August 2022.


The earthquake hit at 4:31 a.m. For the next 20 seconds the ground shook, rippled, and roared. Cracks tore up the sides of buildings, and higher floors pancaked onto lower ones. Steel-reinforced concrete beams buckled as sections of elevated roadway collapsed. Transformers exploded, and burst water mains flooded residential streets.

People were jolted awake by what felt like a freight train barreling through their homes. When it stopped, before the aftershocks began rolling in, survivors saw stars. “They were so close to me and very bright,” one man remembered. The earthquake had killed electrical power in the San Fernando Valley, plunging it into darkness. For the first time many Valley residents could remember, they saw the night sky in luminous detail.

The earthquake of January 17, 1994, with a magnitude of 6.7, left 72 people dead, thousands injured, and tens of thousands homeless across the greater Los Angeles area. Damage was estimated in the billions of dollars. The event was dubbed the Northridge earthquake, named for a hard-hit part of the Valley, but the epicenter was actually farther south in Reseda, a diverse working-class neighborhood.

Some 11 miles beneath Reseda lay a blind thrust fault, so called because it can’t be seen on the earth’s surface. Unlike visible fissures such as the San Andreas Fault, blind thrust faults are difficult to detect and map. But where there’s one, there are likely to be many: By the early 1990s, according to the urban theorist Mike Davis in his book Ecology of Fear, scientists believed there was a “dense thicket” of hidden faults underneath Los Angeles, threatening to convulse the city.


Grover Cleveland High School sat a few blocks from the epicenter of the Northridge earthquake. The school’s low-slung buildings suffered so much damage that students couldn’t attend classes for several weeks afterward. When they returned, they couldn’t eat lunch in the cafeteria because the facility had been condemned. Instead they ate in whatever nooks and crannies they could find—in hallway corners, on concrete quads, or in classrooms, sometimes with their teachers.

In E Hall, part of the northernmost section of campus, eating lunch in a teacher’s room was a badge of honor. The faculty of E Hall were celebrity educators, rock stars of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). They ran Cleveland’s renowned humanities magnet, an interdisciplinary program combining instruction in history, literature, art, and philosophy. “We were like a little Sarah Lawrence in the middle of a Title I school,” an alum told me, referring to the federal program that provides financial assistance for schools with a large population of low-income students. Since its founding in 1981, the magnet had been the subject of glowing news stories, and schools across Los Angeles had replicated its curriculum. The program, which called itself Core, produced so many graduates bound for top-notch colleges that some alumni referred to the University of California at Berkeley as “Core north.”

Core teachers prided themselves on being radicals. They encouraged students to eschew taboos, expand their horizons, and question conventional wisdom. They lectured on systemic racism and postmodernism, and they treated the teenagers they were tasked with educating as “young men and women,” a phrase the program’s founder, Neil Anstead, was fond of using. In turn, the students worshipped them.

Chris Miller was an object of particularly intense adoration. Miller, who taught American history and social studies to juniors, had been with Core since its founding. His students read Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. They discussed the imperative of dismantling white supremacy and the patriarchy. A white man approaching fifty, Miller wore Birkenstocks and jewelry, and had a long ponytail that he adorned with a threaded hair wrap, the kind popular among aging hippies and teenage girls. He hugged students and urged them to talk about their feelings; crying wasn’t unusual in his classes.

The fall semester after the Northridge earthquake, Jackie* began eating lunch in Miller’s room. Jackie was petite, with dark hair and a wide, winning smile. But, entering the 11th grade, she felt insecure. “I basically advertised within those first few weeks that I was an incredibly vulnerable 16-year-old girl,” Jackie told me. She assumed that her friends were smarter than she was, and her parents’ rocky marriage was taking an emotional toll. Meanwhile, she struggled to navigate the sexual attention that men and boys had begun showing her.

Miller made Jackie feel comfortable in his class right away. “He was teaching us things other people were afraid to teach us,” she said. “He was brave, he was a pioneer.” When they talked one on one, she felt that he treated her like an adult, asking her about her life and listening when she spoke. He gave her The Celestine Prophecy, a popular novel about a man’s spiritual awakening, to read and discuss with him. Barely a month into school, Jackie wrote in her diary that Miller was “so fucking cool”—and also a “big flirt” and “very sexual.”

One day, Miller asked Jackie if he was right in sensing an attraction between them. Jackie felt like she had to say yes or he would be disappointed. Besides, maybe she did like him, or should. When Miller asked if she’d ever had sex, Jackie told him she had, which was true. In response, Miller drove her to get an HIV test. Jackie felt like he was taking care of her.

They started seeing each other off campus—teachers and students in Core often interacted outside school, so Jackie didn’t think twice about it. But then, according to Jackie, Miller began sexually abusing her. Once, while giving her a ride to a friend’s house, he pulled over and lunged across the console between them. As Miller kissed Jackie, he placed her hand on his erection. On another occasion, he took her to the beach with two of her friends, both male Core students. The group sat on the sand, with Jackie leaning against Miller’s legs, his arms wrapped around her, and his hands on her breasts. That night, as Miller drove Jackie home, he told her that she could “use” him to work through the problems in her life. He suggested that they write letters to each other and leave them in a filing cabinet in his classroom. He told her to call him “Journey” in the correspondence.

Miller said he loved her. Jackie wanted to believe him. It would be more than two decades before she learned that she wasn’t the only student Miller pursued—and that Miller wasn’t the only Core teacher who allegedly targeted students for abuse.

“They put the magnet program’s reputation over a student’s well-being,” Kate said. “That hurts, you know?”

In 2021, Jackie and three other Jane Does filed lawsuits claiming they were groomed and sexually abused while they were students in Core. Four former teachers, including Miller, are named in the suits as perpetrators. The alleged abuse happened between 1994 and 2009; during that same time frame, according to public records, two additional Core teachers were convicted of crimes involving students, including statutory rape, and a third Cleveland teacher whose classes were popular with magnet students was convicted of possession of child pornography.

An estimated 10 percent of U.S. students suffer sexual misconduct at the hands of a school employee before they leave high school. Over the past decade, LAUSD has paid out hundreds of millions of dollars in response to abuse and harassment claims. What makes Core unique is the number of teachers accused of misconduct over a prolonged period, and the apparent use of the magnet’s curriculum itself to groom students. There is also evidence that some of the teachers’ colleagues and school officials were aware of what was happening but did little or nothing to stop it. “They put the magnet program’s reputation over a student’s well-being. That hurts, you know?” said Kate*, a classmate of Jackie’s and another plaintiff in the lawsuits. “At the end of the day, it was almost like they didn’t care.”

Like the blind thrust faults beneath Los Angeles, the network of suspected wrongdoing at Core is dense, and its capacity for devastation is enormous. This story is based on extensive interviews with the four Jane Does, dozens of other Core alumni, and multiple educators with knowledge of the program. It draws from hundreds of pages of depositions and other legal documents, as well as personal correspondence, yearbooks, journals, and social media postings shared by Core graduates. Two of the accused teachers, including Miller, are deceased; the others either declined to comment for this story or did not respond to interview requests. A spokesperson for LAUSD, which is named as a defendant in the lawsuits, said in a statement that the district “does not comment on pending or ongoing litigation.”

In 2021, Core celebrated its 40th anniversary. The program remains a crown jewel of LA’s public education system. The women who have come forward understand why: Core taught them to disrupt the status quo, expose injustice, and demand accountability for harm. Now they are doing just that.

Magnet programs were created to right wrongs. In the late 1960s, U.S. cities responded to persistent racial segregation by launching specialized courses of study—science and math, for instance, or language immersion—in public schools. Students throughout a district were invited to apply; acceptance was contingent on factors such as racial background and socioeconomic status. The programs were called magnets because they were intended to attract students from all walks of life.

In 1981, Cleveland’s principal asked Neil Anstead to develop a magnet program inside the high school. A Renaissance man, Anstead had been teaching social studies, economics, and art history at Cleveland for more than twenty years; he loved opera so much, he eventually offered a class in that, too. Anstead designed a program predicated on the idea that the humanities were for everyone—not just, in his words, “upper- and middle-class students,” or those of “higher ability.” Magnet students were bused in from across the Valley and other parts of Los Angeles.

The magnet’s curriculum was organized thematically: 9th grade focused on world cultures, 10th on Western civilization, 11th on American studies, and 12th on philosophy and modern thought. “Core” became shorthand for the program because magnet pupils took a nucleus of humanities courses together and attended classes in other subjects alongside the rest of the Cleveland student body. Magnet courses focused on writing—lots of essays, few tests—and were rooted in discussions of what Anstead described as questions “important to living more meaningful lives.” Among them: Is there free will? What is art? Should people be guided more by reason or by emotion? “In the hands of flexible and sensitive teachers,” Anstead wrote in a paper for the Getty Center for Education in the Arts, these questions “keep students hooked from bell to bell.”

Technically, Core was subject to the authority of Cleveland’s main office. In practice, however, it was a school within a school. Anstead served as the de facto administrator, making hiring decisions, managing budgets, and overseeing curriculum development. But magnet faculty enjoyed a great deal of autonomy—Anstead, who developed a reputation among Core students for being gentle and brilliant, if a bit absentminded, gave teachers free rein over their classes. Each grade had a faculty team led by a coordinator; the team co-taught some class sessions and graded students’ essays together. “Teachers must be workaholics,” Anstead once told the Los Angeles Times. “They must be prepared to spend evenings, weekends, and part of their summers together.” Magnet faculty tended to be charismatic: Some teachers were personable in class, forging friendships with students, while others engaged in argumentative dialogue or maintained the cool detachment of an august college professor.

The program was an instant hit. One early alum wrote in a testimonial for the magnet that graduate school “began where … Core classes left off.” Another alum told me that when she got to UCLA, her essays were of such high quality that her professors thought she was plagiarizing. Core became so beloved that before long there was a robust pipeline of alumni who, after finishing college, came back to teach in the program.

In 1986, the Los Angeles Educational Partnership, a nonprofit organization, decided to build on Core’s success by installing similar programs at public schools throughout the city. LAEP called the initiative Humanitas, and participating teachers shadowed Core faculty to learn how to craft and implement a humanities curriculum. Within five years, Humanitas had chapters in 29 schools, involving some 3,500 students and 180 teachers. “In most high schools, you just pass from class to class. If you’re lucky, you might have a teacher who understands you and tries to help you with stuff. But that was not the case here,” Judith Johnson, a former LAEP administrator, told me. “By bringing people into teams, the teachers had a community, and the kids had a community.”

“Stay away from Miller,” an older female student told Kappes at lunch one day. “He tries to sleep with students.”

When Kasia Kappes entered Core as a freshman in 1991, she was nervous. Bright and artistic, Kappes had attended a Catholic middle school, where she wore a uniform and the teachers ran a tight ship. Public school seemed chaotic by comparison. But in E Hall, in the bubble of Core, Kappes felt at home. The teachers were engaging, the classes were inspiring, and the students were enthusiastic. “I just thought sending me there was the best thing my parents ever did for me,” Kappes told me.

Like any high school, however, Cleveland had a rumor mill, and teachers were often the subject of gossip. There were stories about Core instructors who smoked with students. Two longtime faculty members were said to be having an affair. Students talked about an art teacher who was “creepy” with male students. Girls whispered about a math instructor who looked up their skirts in class.

One rumor gave Kappes pause, because it was accompanied by a warning. “Stay away from Miller,” an older female student told her at lunch one day. “He tries to sleep with students.”

Kappes decided to do what the student said, just in case she was right. That worked well enough until 11th grade, when she was in Miller’s class. One day he pulled Kappes aside and asked why she wouldn’t talk to him. “I wasn’t going to accuse a teacher of sleeping with a student,” Kappes said. “So I made something up.” He was friendly, and Kappes felt like he was being genuine. She decided to give him a chance.

Soon she was spending a lot of time in Miller’s classroom, a standalone building on a corner of campus facing an adjoining street. Miller was known to let students ditch school by climbing out his window. The room had Malcolm X and Bob Marley posters. When teenagers hung out there between classes, at lunch, or after school, Miller asked about their friendships and their crushes.

In class, Miller did more than ask questions: He encouraged students to talk about their personal lives in relation to the Core curriculum. Miller was the 11th-grade coordinator, overseeing units on classism, racism, and gender and sexuality, and when it came to sharing about those topics, nothing seemed off limits. Kids described trauma, anxiety, and problems at home. Students of color talked about encountering bias, a topic that was the subject of an annual class exercise called the power pyramid. Core juniors were corralled into a room and instructed to organize themselves according to race: Black and Latino students were on the floor, Asian students were on chairs, and white students stood over everyone. This, the kids were told, was how society saw them.

Miller also showed students provocative movies, including Oleanna, a David Mamet film based on his play of the same name, which depicts a female college student who accuses a male professor of sexual harassment. According to Kappes, Miller wanted to know what the class thought of the plot: “Was there inappropriateness going on between the two? Where do you draw the line on that kind of stuff?”

Kappes trusted Miller and confided in him. Once, after she got in a fight with her parents, he picked her up at home and drove her to a friend’s place. It wasn’t unusual for Core teachers to go above and beyond for a student. Kappes said that one teacher, Rene Shufelt, helped pay for her art school applications. Kappes also considered Richard Coleman, Core’s 10th-grade coordinator, a “legit friend.” She took care of his cats when he was out of town, and Coleman joined Kappes and her friends at movies, concerts, and Disneyland. Over Thanksgiving break in 1994, Kappes’s senior year, she and a few other girls went on a camping trip to Arizona led by Coleman, an avid hiker. According to depositions from Kappes and other students on the trip, the only other chaperone was Coleman’s friend David DeMetz, a paramedic in his mid-twenties.

Kappes and her friends weren’t sneaking around. “We’d come back to school and be like, ‘Oh yeah, we went hiking with Coleman.’ No one batted an eyelash at any of this,” Kappes said. “As weird as things seemed at times, it was also just kind of normal.”

Normal is a word many Core alumni use to talk about things that were anything but. A better word, perhaps, is pervasive. The blurring of lines between students and teachers was everywhere. So was speculation about lines being crossed outright. But a rumor is just a rumor, until the moment it isn’t.

One day when Kappes was a senior, Miller took her out to dinner with Jackie. Kappes was a year older than Jackie, and the two girls had become friends thanks to Miller; he seemed to have a knack for bringing students together, nurturing connections. Kappes knew that Miller and Jackie were spending a lot of time together, but she didn’t think it was inappropriate—she herself had grown so close with Miller that “he was like my dad,” Kappes said.

As they ate, Miller initiated a discussion about whether he and Jackie should have sex. Kappes was horrified but kept her feelings to herself as Miller began to rationalize the subject. “We were having intellectual—and I say that in quotes—conversations to justify these things,” Kappes told me. “It kind of felt like an extension of class.” Miller took the position that sleeping with Jackie wouldn’t be wrong, because if people have feelings for each other, they should act on them. “He was trying to get us to tell him it was OK,” Kappes said. She remembered Miller looking to her especially for support, and being confused as to why. A conversation that took place after the meal was clarifying. “He goes, ‘Well, you understand how this is because of you and Coleman,’ ” Kappes said. “It dawned on me later that he thought I was in a relationship with Coleman.”

At a sleepover after the dinner, Jackie asked Kappes what she should do. Kappes didn’t know what to tell her, and the girls never talked about the discussion with Miller again. Neither did they tell anyone else about it. Jackie buried the encounter so deep in her mind that, as an adult, she would have trouble remembering it at all.

What she could never forget were the moments Miller got her alone. He urged Jackie to join a community group that provided peer education about HIV/AIDS. Meetings were held once a week, and Miller offered to drive her. He held hands with Jackie in the car. Sometimes he did more. Jackie remembered sitting in his car in a parking lot, aware of the smell of his head, his shampoo—Miller was embracing her, crying as he told her that he loved her.

One day, as Miller dropped Jackie off at home after a meeting, he said, “Write to me.” As he drove away, Jackie realized that her mom was in the garage and had heard him. Her mom, who until then had thought Miller was simply a supportive teacher taking an interest in Jackie’s future, demanded to know what he meant. Jackie didn’t want to talk about the notes she and Miller were leaving for each other in his filing cabinet, so she said he was just telling her to do her homework.

Not long after that, Jackie’s mom was putting laundry away when she spotted a stack of letters tucked inside Jackie’s dresser. She picked one up and saw that it was full of compliments about her daughter, including how beautiful she was. The letter was signed “Chris.” Jackie’s mom put two and two together and bolted for her car. “I drove to Cleveland like a mad woman,” she told me.

Jackie’s mom went to Miller’s classroom, pounded on the door, and demanded that he come out. “I just remember going crazy,” she said. “I had a letter in my hand. I said, ‘What is this? What are you doing?’ And his face went completely white and just blank.” Students in nearby classrooms could hear Jackie’s mom yelling. “She ripped him a new one,” Kappes said, “telling him to stay away from her daughter, that she was going to get a restraining order.”

According to Jackie’s mom, Miller cried and told her that he was having a hard time in his personal life, that his wife was sick and he couldn’t afford to lose his job. In a faculty meeting shortly after the incident, Miller told a different story. “He stated that he told her that if she truly believed” he was abusing Jackie, “she was welcome to join him as he went to the principal’s office to resign,” Denis Komen, a Core teacher at the time, said in a deposition. “It was very disturbing to me that a parent would come in and make such a statement, and I was surprised at his response.” (Komen stopped working at Cleveland soon after this incident.)

Jackie’s mom told me that she did go to the school administration. When she left Miller at his classroom door, she reported him to assistant principal Carole Spence. In an email, Spence stated that “no abuse was ever reported to me by anyone,” involving Miller or any other teacher. She added that “assuming this event occurred with some other person”—another administrator, perhaps—Cleveland’s principal should have been informed immediately. At that point, the school’s legal responsibilities would have kicked into gear.

In California as in all U.S. states, teachers and school officials are required by law to report known or suspected child abuse to law enforcement. When someone makes an abuse allegation or reports possible misconduct, it isn’t up to a “mandated reporter” to determine whether the claim is true—they are obligated to file a suspected child abuse report, or SCAR. But according to Jackie’s lawsuit, after her mom went to Cleveland’s main office, “no action was taken.” Records obtained as part of discovery in the suit contain no mention of a SCAR being filed against Miller at any time during his tenure at Cleveland. An additional request submitted to LAUSD “for information regarding any complaints involving, investigations involving, or disciplinary records” for Miller turned up “no responsive records.”

Apart from Denis Komen, the various teachers and school officials deposed thus far in Jackie’s lawsuit said they didn’t remember a parent confronting or reporting Miller. Most of them also said they didn’t recall ever hearing rumors that Miller was inappropriate with a student. But according to a former employee of Humanitas, the LAUSD-wide program modeled on Core, knowledge of possible misconduct went all the way to the top of the magnet.

The former employee, who spoke to me on condition of anonymity, described a one-on-one meeting with Neil Anstead, Core’s founder and longtime coordinator, during which Anstead brought up Miller’s alleged behavior. Anstead indicated that he wasn’t going to pursue the matter. “He said, ‘You can’t fault someone for who they fall in love with,’ or something,” the former Humanitas employee recalled. “It was a very romanticized version of something that sounded scary to me.” (Anstead died in 2020.)

According to Jackie, after her mom found the letters in her bedroom, Miller knew he couldn’t be seen alone with her, so he came up with new ways for them to spend time together. He told Jackie that they should meet for lunch in Vivian Atkin’s classroom. Atkin had joined Core in 1994. She taught freshman English and was on the 11th-grade faculty team. Miller assured Jackie that they could confide in Atkin, who had helped him burn the letters Jackie had written him. “They were destroying evidence, but it was presented to me that it was ceremonious, like a cleansing,” Jackie said. (Atkin didn’t respond to interview requests.)

In a deposition, Jackie stated that Atkin was present for discussions about Miller’s romantic interest in her. “The conversations would basically be about how people don’t understand, you know, our relationship,” Jackie said. “Ms. Atkin understood.” Jackie didn’t know that Atkin and Miller were sexually involved. Atkin, who like Miller was married to someone else, said in a deposition that the affair was brief—a claim disputed by alumni interviewed for this story and by witnesses in the current lawsuits.

Miller also encouraged Jackie to start spending time with Claudia*, another junior. Sometimes he joined them. In May 1995, he went with the girls to a reggae concert, where they smoked pot together. According to Claudia, Miller made advances toward her, but she could sense that she wasn’t his primary target. “He was very focused on [Jackie],” Claudia said in a deposition. “He encouraged my relationship to her … to get her away from the pack, in a new pack.”

It worked: Jackie pulled away from her closest friends to spend time with Claudia and Miller. People who cared for her didn’t know where to turn. “I certainly never felt like there was somebody at the program or the school that I could go talk to about my suspicions,” a childhood friend and fellow Core student said in a deposition. “It didn’t feel like they would be on my side.”

Kasia Kappes put it more succinctly. “It doesn’t matter if your mom knows,” she told me. “Nothing is going to happen.”

Coleman asked how old she would be when she graduated. Kate said she would be 18. “We should go on a date then,” he replied.

One day in the summer of 1995, a few months after Jackie’s mom came to campus, Kappes got a phone call from Richard Coleman. That in itself wasn’t unusual. Kappes, who graduated from Cleveland that June, had talked with Coleman on the phone frequently when she was a student. But on this particular call Coleman seemed anxious. “I messed up,” Kappes remembered him telling her. “I kissed Kate*.”

For the second time that year, Kappes was stunned by something a teacher was telling her. Like Jackie, Kate was a rising senior. She and Kappes were close, and together they hung out with Coleman. The three of them bantered; they had inside jokes. Coleman once described them in a letter he wrote to Kappes as an “awesome (if not somewhat kinky) trio.”

On the phone, Kappes told Coleman he was an idiot. He knew Kate had a crush on him; Kappes had told him so. Why would he lead her on?

Kate had admired Coleman since sophomore year, when she’d been in his class. On the first day he told students that his essay tests were so demanding, most of them would never finish. Kate studied all weekend before the first one. In class she wrote dozens of pages, capping them off with the triumphant words “I FINISHED.” When she got the essay back, Coleman had replied, “YES YOU DID.”

The following year, when Jackie started spending her lunch period in Miller’s room, Kate did the same in Coleman’s. Other girls were often there too. Coleman, who was in his mid-thirties, was aloof in an appealing way, and many female students found him attractive. He had long brown hair and a beard, prompting comparisons to Jesus. Kate found Coleman intelligent and charming. They talked about art and music; they had the same taste. Soon she was writing about him in her journal.

One day, according to Kate, she and Coleman were alone in his classroom when he asked how old she would be when she graduated. Kate said she would be 18. “We should go on a date then,” Coleman replied. He wrote his phone number down. Soon they were talking on the phone after school. Coleman told her that he had feelings for her.

In a deposition, Kate recalled Coleman saying that he wanted to plan a weekend away, just the two of them, in Joshua Tree. But then he called one day to say they should do a shorter hike in Los Angeles instead. According to Kate, Coleman explained that he had talked to a friend of his who’d told him it was a bad idea to be alone with her for a weekend. The friend was a former Core teacher who, according to multiple sources interviewed for this story, and one who testified under oath, was rumored to have pursued a sexual relationship with a student and subsequently to have left the magnet to be with her.

During their hike, according to Kate, Coleman asked, “What are we? Are we friends?” She sensed he wanted them to be something more, and she thought she felt the same way. But the first time Coleman tried to be physical with her, Kate pushed him away. Eventually, she didn’t say no to Coleman’s advances, although her discomfort remained. One day he kissed her in a parking lot. According to Kate’s deposition, the abuse later intensified, becoming more sexual. It continued into the spring of her senior year. (Coleman declined an interview request, noting, “I cannot comment while this matter is under litigation.”)

In her deposition, Kappes said that when Coleman called to tell her that he’d “messed up” by kissing Kate, he was also “very angry” Kate had written about the incident in her journal. What if someone read it? No one did; keeping secrets was torture, but Kate did it anyway. She kept her journal to herself, and stayed quiet about the emails Coleman sent her describing himself as an “oral sex fanatic” and signing off “miss you and your flesh.” About a smiling Miller asking her one day if she was “keeping Coleman happy.” About how Miller wasn’t the only teacher who seemed to know or suspect the truth.

In a journal entry, Kate recounted a conversation that Coleman told her he’d had with Ray Linn, a philosophy teacher and Core’s 12th-grade coordinator. Linn had spotted Coleman driving Kate away from school in his Jeep, and suggested it was a bad look for teachers to be seen giving rides to students. (In a deposition, Linn said he didn’t remember this conversation, and never heard or suspected that Coleman was inappropriate with students.) According to Kate, Marty Kravchak, another Core teacher, approached her more than once to ask if anything was “going on” between her and Coleman. “I don’t know if I actually said no, but I didn’t say yes,” Kate told me. “That’s what I did with a lot of people.” In her deposition, Kate recalled Kravchak referring to Coleman as a “dirty old man.”

Kravchak, who didn’t reply to interview requests, stated under oath that she didn’t recall talking to Kate. “I must have really blocked that out,” she said. Kravchak did remember female students who had a crush on Coleman—“drooling in his presence comes to mind.” She said that she told him to keep his classroom door open, “because those girls are going to be a problem.”

At least one teacher could recall being concerned for Kate. Lori Howe, a Core graduate who joined the magnet faculty in the mid-1990s, overheard students joking one day about how Coleman would be taking Kate to the prom, since they seemed to be dating. In a deposition, Howe said she “immediately” went to Anstead. “He said that just because students say things … does not make them true and that he would look into it and take care of it,” Howe said. A request to LAUSD for documentation of complaints against or investigations of Coleman turned up “no responsive records.”


At the time, Jackie and Kate didn’t have a word for what they were experiencing. Today, as adults, they know it as grooming. According to both women, Miller and Coleman were isolating them, complimenting them, encouraging them to be vulnerable, earning their trust, and normalizing inappropriate behavior. The men were also gaslighting them, exploiting their friendships, and stoking adolescent jealousy to draw them closer. In response, the girls experienced a flurry of contradictory emotions: They felt flattered and uneasy, empowered and beholden, attracted and revolted. Unsure how to manage these feelings, they took cues from the very adults who were abusing them. After all, they’d always been taught to trust their teachers.

High school provides a convenient framework for cycles of abuse. Students are around for only a handful of years, and the pool of potential targets is constantly replenished. According to Kate’s deposition, as her time in Core drew to a close, she watched Coleman turn his attention to a younger female student. At first she was heartbroken. But by the time she graduated in 1996, Kate had convinced herself she was ready to move on. Years later she reached out to tell Coleman about studying abroad and her career plans. “It might have been a little more like, ‘Look at how well I’m doing in spite of you,’ ” she said.

Jackie’s dynamic with Miller started shifting the summer before her senior year. He encouraged her to attend Brotherhood-Sisterhood Camp, a program started by the Los Angeles chapter of the National Conference of Christians and Jews that facilitated interracial, interfaith dialogue among high schoolers. Jackie found the experience transformative, but when she mentioned to a female counselor at the camp that Miller was helping her deal with challenges in her life, she sensed something was off. Without specifying why, the counselor told Jackie that Miller wasn’t a good person for her to lean on.

As the fall semester began, Jackie distanced herself from Miller. He didn’t object. In fact, he soon alerted Jackie and Claudia that the three of them shouldn’t spend time together anymore. The impetus seemed to be a family member of Claudia’s reading her journal, including details about Miller’s behavior; according to Claudia’s deposition, this prompted a conversation with school administrators. After that, Miller brought the girls into Vivian Atkin’s classroom one day. He played a Simon and Garfunkel song and gave them gifts: a poster for Jackie, an anklet for Claudia. It was as if he were saying goodbye. But he assured them that if they needed anything, they could always reach out to him through Atkin.

Claudia left Cleveland soon after that—she couldn’t take the stress of Miller’s manipulations, which had become the subject of school gossip. “Everyone knew,” Claudia stated in a deposition. She also attributed her leaving Cleveland to “a blind eye turned by the school…. You were supposed to continue walking through school like everything was OK, and it was not OK.”

Jackie made it to graduation. For her, college was the struggle. She didn’t trust male professors. If they complimented her work, she assumed they were trying to coax her into a physical relationship. Eventually, she quit school and started waiting tables and bartending.

Over the years—and with therapy—Jackie unpacked the baggage of Miller’s abuse. She would never be rid of it, but at least she could see it for what it was, assess it, call it wrong. She also began to reconsider the way Miller and other Core faculty approached teaching. As a teenager she’d found it stimulating, even revolutionary, but what if there was another side to it?

A particular class exercise stood out to her. As part of the 11th-grade unit focused on gender and sexuality, Miller had instructed male students to line up all the girls in his classroom in order of attractiveness. The lesson was supposed to be about how beauty is subjective, but all Jackie could remember was the fear churning in her stomach over where she’d be placed in line. “It was like this weird psychological torture,” she told me.

Jackie wasn’t the only Core student to feel that way.

A familiar name came up more than once in interviews with Core alumni: Jane Elliott. An elementary school teacher in Riceville, Iowa, Elliott rose to prominence soon after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., when she divided her all-white third-grade class into two groups: children with blue eyes, and children with brown eyes. She told the children with blue eyes that they were genetically inferior, denied them access to playground equipment, and prohibited them from drinking water from school fountains. The next day, she reversed the children’s roles. The point was to demonstrate how racism functions.

While the “blue eyes, brown eyes” experiment made Elliott a local pariah—her own children faced harassment, and the family dog was poisoned—it also made her a national sensation. She appeared on TV and became a sought-after voice on racism, running workshops that expanded upon her famous experiment. She was invited to schools, corporate retreats, even a White House conference. Today she remains a highly regarded diversity educator.

But Elliott isn’t without her detractors. When Stephen G. Bloom, a journalism professor, began writing a book about Elliott several years ago, he found that the majority of interview subjects were critical of her legacy, including people who had participated in her work. These sources described Elliott using targeted insults and blunt manipulation, and refusing to listen to feedback. “The experiment was a sadistic exhibition of power and authority—levers controlled by Elliott,” Bloom concluded. “Stripping away the veneer of the experiment, what was left had nothing to do with race. It was about cruelty and shaming.”

Several Core alumni told me that Chris Miller admired Elliott and modeled some of his teaching methods on her work. Tallie Ben Daniel, who graduated from the magnet in 2001, shared a YouTube video in which Elliott singles out students in a classroom for criticism and asks how it makes them feel. According to Ben Daniel, this was “beat for beat what class was like” for Core juniors.

At the beginning of the 11th grade, magnet students were given an IQ test and lined up according to their scores. There were protests and tears. Before the bell rang, students were told that the test was fake and that IQ was a useless measurement. “There was just always this gotcha,” Ben Daniel told me.

The power pyramid was also fraught. In a deposition, Brandi Craig, a Black alum who attended the magnet in the aughts, said the exercise—like “a lot” of activities in Core—seemed to exploit the trauma of students of color, perhaps for no other reason than to ensure that white students had “an interesting experience to talk about on their college essays.” (At the time, about 40 percent of Core students in a typical cohort were white, while Asian and Latino students each constituted about a quarter. Black students made up the remaining 10 percent.) Other alumni found the exercise one-dimensional in its assumptions of who holds social power and why. One year a white student burst into tears and said he didn’t belong at the top of the pyramid because he lived in a car with his mom. When Ben Daniel suggested that being queer might modulate her advantages in life, Miller “laid into” her. “Look at the people of color sitting on the floor,” she recalled him saying. “How dare you deny the reality that’s in front of you, that you have privilege and they don’t!” Ben Daniel said she “took it,” and felt rewarded as a result.

At the time, there were three other people on the 11th-grade teaching team: Vivian Atkin, as well as Donna Hill and Bill Paden, both of whom were Black. Paden liked to debate Core kids and push them to defend their intellectual positions. Adam Titcher, a 2000 alum, said that even after graduating, he and Paden had heated discussions on the phone about the conflict between Israel and Palestine. In interviews and depositions, many alumni also described Paden as flirtatious. Rachel Becker, who graduated in 1998, recalled him joking about her breasts in front of other students. “He said, ‘When Rachel Becker does jumping jacks, she gets a black eye,’ ” she stated in a deposition. “It was the most humiliating experience of my teenage years.” (Paden did not respond to interview requests.)

During the 11th-grade unit on gender and sexuality, Core teachers encouraged girls to share their experiences with sexual violence. Sometimes female faculty told stories of their own. Alanna Bailey, a 2003 graduate, described “the floodgates” opening one day. “Almost every single female in the class was saying things like ‘I was raped by my father,’ ” Bailey said, “or ‘so-and-so molested me,’ or ‘I’ve been raped three times at parties.’ ”

No alumni interviewed for this story recalled mental health resources being made available to them while they attended the magnet. “Core just ripped stuff out of us,” Bailey told me. “We had nowhere to put it.” Several graduates said the program drilled into them the message that if a situation in class made them uncomfortable, they should ignore their gut—their apprehension was just an expression of the social expectations Core was helping them to slough off. Many alumni also said the faculty instilled a belief that talking about Core with anyone who wasn’t in the program wasn’t worth their time; only people on the inside, who shared their experiences, could appreciate what the magnet was doing. Permission slips for class experiences that focused on mature content were often opt-out: Parents only had to sign if they didn’t want their kids to participate, which meant students could shove a slip in a backpack and forget about it. “From day one, you’re trusting the teachers,” Ben Daniel said, “because they’re doing this for your own good.”

“This” included more than just the encouragement of soul-baring in class. In sophomore English, while reading the play Equus, students were sometimes urged to act out a scene in which a character reaches sexual climax. Juniors watched The Accused, the Academy Award–winning film about a brutal gang rape. In the 12th grade, according to multiple sources’ interviews and depositions, Ray Linn openly mocked students in his class—several alumni remembered him calling them “idiots.” Students got the sense that if they didn’t understand that Linn was being ironic, it was their problem. Judith Johnson, who sometimes sat in on Linn’s classes as part of her work with LAEP, told me she “would cringe when he would critique a student in front of all the other students.” She said she expressed concerns about Linn’s “degrading” methods to Anstead, who assured her that “the kids responded to Ray.” (Linn did not reply to interview requests.)

One former Core student told me, “It felt like you had no choice but to conform to what your teachers were telling you, and not only about the curriculum. You were obligated to buy into their view of you.” Impressionable teenagers did just that. As adults, some remain fervent advocates of the program. “You stand behind your journalistic integrity, yes?” one alum asked in a Facebook message, in response to an interview request. “Because CORE is a solid program, and shining a disingenuous spotlight on it would do more harm than good.”

Shapiro didn’t remember Atkin saying anything, but her presence seemed to serve a purpose. “I remember having this thought, like, well, there’s a woman in the room with me right now, and if she’s in here, this must be OK,” Shapiro said.

Michael Leviton was a rarity in Core, a student who thought that much of the pedagogy was flawed and self-indulgent. The 1998 graduate said so to anyone who would listen, and often to people who didn’t want to. Extreme candor was the defining feature of his life: Leviton’s parents insisted that he should never lie, and should speak his mind no matter what, because not being honest was a personal failing.

Leviton, who is a friend of mine and the person who informed me about the Core lawsuits, would be the first to say that his view of the magnet was influenced by coming of age in a “little honesty cult.” Still, his upbringing gave him a finely tuned bullshit detector—and no one set it off quite like Chris Miller. As Leviton saw it, Miller “got off on the power of manipulating teenagers.” But whenever Leviton objected to how Miller taught, he was shot down by fellow students or other teachers.

During senior year, right before graduation, a friend confided in Leviton about an encounter she’d had with Miller. The friend and another senior, Rachel Shapiro, were Miller’s favorite female students at the time—he always seemed to have a few. One day he took them out to eat off campus and told them that he liked them. “He says to my friend, ‘I want to date you,’ and to me he says, ‘You make me feel warm and fuzzy inside,’ ” Shapiro recalled. After the meal, the girls climbed into their car and laughed uncontrollably.

Several days later, Miller pulled Shapiro into his classroom during lunch. In a deposition, Shapiro said that Vivian Atkin was there, too. Miller told Shapiro that he’d noticed she and her friend had distanced themselves from him since the meal. “He basically laid it out and was like, ‘It’s your choice, but there’s nothing wrong with this, and these feelings are real,’ ” Shapiro told me. Miller indicated that he’d had relationships with female students before.

Shapiro didn’t remember Atkin saying anything, but her presence seemed to serve a purpose. “I remember having this thought, like, well, there’s a woman in the room with me right now, and if she’s in here, this must be OK,” Shapiro said. “Because if somebody else knows about it and it’s not a secret, then what’s wrong with this?” Still, Shapiro rebuffed Miller.

When Leviton learned what had happened, he was more confident than ever that something was terribly wrong in Core. Armed with the truth—and in the habit of telling it—he went to his mom, Linda, who called the school. According to Linda, she spoke with principal Eileen Banta and they scheduled a meeting with Miller. In Linda’s recollection, which she shared under oath and in an interview, Miller came into the room and said that he had no idea what she was talking about and that he didn’t have time to be there.

Afterward, Miller continued teaching. Shapiro said that she and her friend never spoke to the school administration. In a deposition, Banta said that she didn’t remember meeting with Linda and Miller or otherwise hearing about the allegations against Miller. “I wouldn’t forget something like that,” Banta said.

But Linda still has her personal calendar from when the meeting took place. “About Miller” is scribbled under August 4, 1998—four years after Miller reportedly began grooming Jackie, and one year before he allegedly set his sights on yet another student.

Like many kids, Zoe* had a hard time in middle school. Core, which she entered in 1997, felt like a fresh, exciting start for a creative and opinionated teenager like her. “Students were seen and treated as the intellectual equals of our teachers,” Zoe said. “There was this feeling of, you’re here, you’re special, this is a special place, these teachers are super special, don’t fuck it up.”

Over Zoe’s four years in Core, students branched off into cliques centered on particular teachers. Black students and athletes—cheerleaders in particular—tended to be devotees of Bill Paden. Budding journalists hung around Marty Kravchak, who advised the student newspaper. Girls who were into art or drama gravitated toward Coleman, who, in addition to coordinating the 10th grade, taught AP Art History.

Zoe bonded with Atkin during freshman English. Atkin sang a few bars of music every time she saw Zoe and told her they were kindred spirits. When Atkin said Zoe and Miller would get along, Zoe believed her. In 11th grade, Zoe became a devout Miller disciple. She threw herself into class discussions and exercises, and also spent time alone with Miller and Atkin. The Matrix had come out that year, and Miller showed the film to students. It became the framework for talking about the 11th-grade curriculum: The Matrix represented society’s strictures, and Core was what extricated students, or “unplugged” them. Miller sometimes called himself Neo, the name of Keanu Reeves’s character in the movie. Privately, he referred to Zoe as Trinity, after the leather-clad heroine played by Carrie-Anne Moss. Other times he called her Rapture, and referred to himself as Journey—the same nickname he’d told Jackie to use for him in the letters she once wrote him.

According to Zoe, Miller and Atkin became involved in her relationships with her classmates. “They would insert themselves into the drama or conflicts that we were having with one another,” she told me. Miller also made sexually provocative statements in front of students—for instance, that anyone with a penis was a potential rapist, save for a few enlightened men like himself. He once asked Zoe how she felt about the taboo of being attracted to one’s own sibling; later she wondered whether he was gauging her response to the notion of forbidden desire. After that encounter, during a field trip, Miller sat next to Zoe on the bus, where he held her hand and touched her legs.

One day, Miller and Atkin took Zoe to the school library to tell her something important. “They wanted me to know that they were in love with each other. They said they had a positive, liberated relationship,” Zoe said. She was honored that they trusted her. At the end of the conversation, they all hugged. (In a deposition, Atkin said, “I’m sure we must have told her about the involvement, but I can’t remember when and I can’t remember doing it…. I had become so much of a friend that I told her things I shouldn’t have told her.”)

After that conversation, according to Zoe, the three of them kept in closer touch than ever, including over the summer after her junior year. They talked on the phone and sometimes met up at a California Pizza Kitchen. At a certain point, Miller began physically abusing her. He called what was happening love. On at least one occasion, Zoe said under oath, Atkin participated in the abuse. In her deposition, Atkin denied this allegation. She admitted to letting Zoe paint her bare chest as part of a “healing” ceremony after she had a mastectomy. Miller was present when this happened. “It was not erotic at all,” Atkin said. But according to Zoe, after the ceremony, her teachers touched her and one another sexually.

Zoe told me that Miller, who by then was in his mid-fifties, used the word “bifurcate” to explain how she should navigate her relationship with him and Atkin. After spending time together, “they have to go back to their spouses and I have to go back to my parents’ house. We have to put it aside, compartmentalize it,” Zoe said. “They were teaching me how to dissociate.” She told no one what was happening, not even her closest friends, and tried to convince herself that she was guarding a precious secret.

Deep down, though, Zoe felt conflicted. She attempted more than once to end sexual contact with Miller, but he punished her by cutting off communication. “It never lasted longer than maybe a day or two days, because it was fucking torture for me to lose this person that I had come to completely depend upon,” Zoe said. She told me that she sought advice from Atkin, who said her discomfort with Miller was just internalized ageism.

Other students knew Zoe had a close bond with Atkin and Miller. Some of them thought they should be so lucky. But not everyone was comfortable with what they witnessed. In a deposition, a 1995 Core alum who came back briefly as a teacher described seeing Zoe crying at school one day and being aware that it was “connected to Chris Miller.” She said that she went to Anstead, who “said he would follow up.” She never heard anything else about it.

After Zoe graduated in 2001, she enrolled at UCLA, and Miller told her he was leaving his wife, so he could see her whenever he wanted. (Miller’s wife did not respond to interview requests.) But when Zoe visited Miller’s new apartment, she knew she didn’t want to spend time there. “What was I going to tell all my peers when they wondered what this old man was doing, picking me up from school, from my dorm, and taking me somewhere?” she said. Zoe began to pull away from Miller and everyone she knew from Core. “I just didn’t want to have contact,” she said.

One day, Miller, Atkin, and some of Zoe’s former classmates came to UCLA to stage an “intervention.” They sat in a sculpture garden next to the theater department, and one by one the group told Zoe how she’d hurt them by disappearing from their lives. When it was Miller’s turn, he cried and yelled. He ripped grass out of the ground and threw it at Zoe. “I hung my head down. I couldn’t look at any of them,” she told me. “I was consumed by guilt.” (In her deposition, Atkin confirmed the visit to UCLA, but said she didn’t remember it being described as an intervention or Miller becoming upset with Zoe.)

Zoe’s contact with Miller and Atkin ebbed and flowed after that. So did her trauma. In November 2007, she met with her former teachers at a restaurant in Northridge to confront them about their “inappropriate relationship”—she wasn’t yet ready to call it sexual abuse. “I started off by saying, ‘I have a lot of things I want to share with you, and I don’t want you to speak until I’m done,’ ” Zoe recalled. (In her deposition, Atkin stated that Zoe told them “she felt she had been spoiled for any other relationships because this relationship was so powerful,” but that “sex was never once mentioned.”)

According to Zoe, Miller, who had since returned to his marriage, apologized for not being “the adult you needed me to be.” He said that if she ever had any “angry feelings,” she should reach out to him. But Zoe didn’t. After she left Northridge that day, she never saw Miller again.

For a long time, it seemed as if the culture of Core would never change—not the curriculum, the emotional expectations, or the way teachers treated students. Some young faculty attempted to speak up, but nothing came of their complaints. When Lori Howe, the teacher who said she reported a rumor about Coleman and Kate to Neil Anstead, heard in the late 1990s about Miller instructing male students to line up their female classmates according to attractiveness—and to include Atkin in the exercise—Howe was “outraged.” She told Miller as much. “He basically blew off my concerns,” Howe said in a deposition. Soon after, she stopped teaching and became a counselor in Cleveland’s main office.

By the early 2000s, other Core alumni who’d become teachers found the magnet’s environment to be toxic, for both faculty and students. Ariane White, who’d graduated at the top of her class in the mid-1990s, became disillusioned with the men who’d once taught her, chief among them Ray Linn. Known for his wild mane of white hair and his colorful shirts, Linn had a teaching style that some alumni called Socratic but others, including White, described as bullying. In a deposition, White referred to class handouts Linn created consisting of sentences pulled from students’ essays. “It would say things like ‘Whoever wrote this should kill themselves,’ ” White said. When she shared her concerns, she felt belittled by Linn and dismissed by other teachers. She soon left Core for good.

There were other departures, the kind bound to happen when an academic program has existed for an appreciable amount of time. After working at Cleveland for nearly half a century, Anstead retired in 2004; the same year, he received a plaque on the Walk of Hearts, an installation in the Valley honoring exemplary teachers from the area. Miller and Atkin retired in 2006 and 2007, respectively. Around the same time, Coleman left Core and took a teaching position at a nearby community college.

These exits occurred on the heels of departures of a very different nature. Chris Biron, an art teacher in Core, was arrested in 2003. According to the LAPD, Biron had asked a male student to pose for him after school wearing “only his underwear.” Biron offered the boy $20 an hour. A criminal investigation ensued, and “based on the evidence seized,” police issued an arrest warrant. “It is believed that there may be additional victims,” the LAPD stated in a press release. Biron pled no contest to two charges: contributing to the delinquency of a minor, and possession of child pornography. (Biron did not respond to interview requests.)

Two years later, Michael Helwig, a former Cleveland math teacher, was making headlines: He was swept up in a law enforcement operation investigating child sex offenses, and was convicted of three counts pertaining to the possession and duplication of child pornography. Helwig, who by the time of his arrest had moved to another high school, hadn’t been part of the Core faculty, but magnet students had filled his accelerated program of honors and AP classes. According to multiple female alumni, Helwig called them pet names and commented on their appearances. In a deposition, a student recalled him asking if she went to nude beaches. Another said he once offered to give her an A if she got him a date with her elder sister, a senior at the time. (Helwig told me that if he made those comments, they were meant in jest, and that it surprised him any Core student thought otherwise. With regard to his criminal activity, Helwig said, “The arrest was the result of a mistake I made and I have moved on from it. I am proud of the person I have become and the life I have created.”)

No arrest was more seismic than the one that came next. Biron and Helwig weren’t among the giants of Core—the teachers who had the greatest clout and were the most widely admired among magnet students. But Bill Paden was.

In fact, Paden was an inspiration in every corner of Cleveland. In 2003, along with two other Black teachers, he’d called an assembly of Cleveland’s Black students to discuss their low test scores relative to their peers. Paden and his colleagues wanted to understand how to help the students reach their full potential. After the assembly, the teachers formed Village Nation, a program offering Black students tutoring and mentoring. (The name came from the much quoted phrase “It takes a village to raise a child.”) Black students’ test scores leapt, and national media took notice. In 2007, Village Nation was featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show. “The more you engage young people and give them an opportunity to actually critically analyze and think,” Paden told Oprah, “you’ll see a tremendous change in culture and how they think about themselves.”

By then, Paden had another feather in his cap: He was the new coordinator of Core’s 11th grade. The curriculum was much the same as it had been under Miller. The power pyramid was still an annual exercise, with some modifications, and students were still encouraged to share intimate details of their lives, to the point where it seemed like their class performance depended on it. “We were just crying at the feet of these teachers,” a student at the time told me. “There was always a sense of wanting to be the most broken.”

One day in the spring of 2008, a student asked if she could speak to a Cleveland counselor privately. She said it was about Paden. The student revealed that a recent female graduate had told her that, when she was a student at Cleveland, Paden had had sex with her. The counselor reported Paden to the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services. Soon after, Paden was escorted off campus and never came back.

At first his students didn’t know what had happened. “He was just gone,” said Brandi Craig, a Core junior at the time. The faculty didn’t formally address the matter with students or parents. Tara Jacobs, a Core alum who had returned to teach, stated in a deposition that the faculty “spent a lot of time talking about how did this happen,” but were outwardly focused “on making sure our students did not feel like their lives were turned upside down.” Eventually, students and other people with ties to Core learned that Paden had been convicted in a jury trial of misdemeanor statutory rape.

“It was an abusive organization,” Tallie Ben Daniel said. “The individual didn’t matter. It was the system that mattered.”

The news of Paden’s misconduct prompted Zoe, who had confronted Miller and Atkin in Northridge only a few months prior, to finally confide in her friends from high school about what had happened to her in Core. “I wish someone had reported Miller,” Zoe told them. Tallie Ben Daniel described Paden’s arrest as “the thing that broke the spell” for a lot of alumni. If students had missed warning signs about so prominent a teacher, what else had they misinterpreted—or been manipulated into ignoring—as kids?

In hindsight there were red flags everywhere. The lack of boundaries between teenagers and adults. The way faculty compelled students to expose their secrets. The feeling that what happened in Core stayed in Core. Rachel Shapiro told me “everybody was being groomed” to accept impropriety. Ben Daniel likened Core to a cult. “It was an abusive organization,” she said. “The individual didn’t matter. It was the system that mattered.”

But even as some alumni began to reevaluate Core’s culture, current students were in the thick of it. Brandi Craig, who graduated in 2009, said they idolized students who were teachers’ pets—the kids who did everything they could to impress their teachers, who projected vulnerability as a virtue, who dedicated themselves unwaveringly to Core’s ethos. “I can look back and see how the grooming was leeching through them,” Craig said.

Emma*, a classmate of Craig’s, admired Core faculty so much that she was once voted most likely to return as a teacher, a yearbook superlative. She was the kind of student who would laminate her notes before an exam so she could study them in the shower. Heading into senior year, she was the president of two clubs and the editor of the school newspaper. She was eyeing journalism programs at East Coast colleges. “I really felt like I could’ve done anything,” she said.

Emma met the newest magnet teacher shortly after the 2008 fall semester began. Brett Shufelt’s connections to Core ran deep: He’d graduated from the program in 2001, and his mom, Rene, was the teacher who’d once helped pay for Kasia Kappes’s art school applications. The summer before he began teaching, other faculty had told Shufelt to conduct his relationships with female students with the utmost care—they didn’t want even a hint of another Paden situation. “[We] had specific conversations with him about proper behavior and protocol and things like that,” Tara Jacobs said in a deposition.

Emma took an early bus to school every day, traveling some 14 miles from her home in a heavily Mexican-American corner of the Valley. One fall morning she asked Shufelt, who also got to campus early, if she could sit in his classroom to do homework before first period. Soon she was going to his room first thing most days. When she asked him to look at the outline of an essay she was writing, he told her it was “really smart.”

They started messaging on Facebook, and Emma began staying late after school to talk to Shufelt about classwork, college applications, and politics. He told her about being a Core student: how the curriculum had taught him to think deeply, how the yearbook had dedicated a page to his ever changing hairstyles. Ben Daniel, a close friend of Shufelt’s in high school, described him as smart and artistic, with an affinity for mosh pits. Shufelt told Emma that coming back as a Core teacher had always been his dream.

When Emma visited Emerson College in Boston, where she was offered a full scholarship, Shufelt was “really sour about it,” she recalled. He asked why she would want to go so far away from home. That question planted a seed of doubt she couldn’t shake. She ended up applying early to Mills College, in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Over Thanksgiving break, Emma had tickets to see a production of the musical Spring Awakening. None of her friends could go, so she asked Shufelt if he wanted to join her—after all, Emma told me, “people went out with teachers all the time.” They watched the show, the plot of which centers on teenagers experiencing the first stirrings of sexual desire, in the theater’s front row. Afterward Shufelt asked if Emma wanted to get dinner. Emma ordered rice and beans, and Shufelt teased her for her “banal” order—the first time she’d ever heard that word. He paid for the meal, and they walked to an art exhibit before finishing off the evening with ice cream. “If he’d been 16, it would have been a great date,” Emma told me. “But he was 25.”

After Thanksgiving, Shufelt asked Emma to help him grade exams one day. They started at a Denny’s in the Valley, then moved to his house around the corner, where he said he’d forgotten a stack of students’ work. “His house was what I always thought that my adult house would be like—full of books, full of papers, art everywhere,” Emma said. When they finished grading, Emma moved to leave through the front door. Shufelt reached over her head to shut it. He kissed her, then drove her back to Denny’s so her mom could pick her up.

Sex followed a few nights later, again at his house. Shufelt said they needed to keep a low profile until Emma turned 18, which wouldn’t be until after graduation. Emma confided in a friend on Facebook, “He told me he loved me and wanted to spend the rest of his life with me.”

According to Emma, before winter break Tara Jacobs learned of the outing to see Spring Awakening, and she pulled Emma out of class to speak with her and Shufelt about it. Jacobs urged Shufelt to tell Emma what the two teachers apparently had discussed before the meeting. “He looked at me and said, ‘I don’t have feelings for you, I don’t want to see you again, it shouldn’t have happened,’ ” Emma recalled. Later, in private, Shufelt told her he didn’t mean it. (In a deposition, Jacobs said she didn’t remember whether she met with Emma and Shufelt.)

Soon after, Emma’s mother read some Facebook messages Emma had exchanged with a friend, including one in which she said Shufelt had kissed her. Emma’s parents confronted her, and she alerted Shufelt. According to Emma, Shufelt told her that, at a Core faculty meeting held over winter break, he would announce that he was in love with a student and would be resigning.

After the faculty meeting, Gabriel Lemmon, the coordinator of the magnet since Anstead had stepped down, filed a SCAR. The document, dated January 8, 2009, states that “Brett Shufelt … met with a student at a restaurant,” and that “according to Shufelt, [the] student kissed him at conclusion of meeting—and he reports that he did not stop her.” When the spring semester began, Emma’s parents went to the principal’s office to talk about getting law enforcement involved in the situation. According to Emma, an administrator asked if her parents really wanted to put her through an investigation when she was so close to graduating—after all, she and Shufelt had only kissed.

Emma, who was present for the conversation, was too humiliated to tell the administrator that she and Shufelt had done far more than that. Her parents decided not to pursue an investigation. Emma went to class.

Emma overheard peers say she was “not hot enough for you to risk your career over.” On Facebook, a classmate said he wanted to “bash her brains in.”

Like Paden had less than a year prior, Shufelt vanished from Cleveland without explanation. Core teachers didn’t address the situation with students, except to announce that faculty and students could not be Facebook friends. Emma felt like she was left to fend for herself. “I would advise you to ask the teachers if they may have any information, because I have none to provide,” Emma wrote on Facebook in response to another student asking if Shufelt was coming back to Core.

Before long, the tone of gossip congealed around a single idea: It was Emma’s fault that Shufelt—a young, well-liked teacher—had left. She overheard peers say she was “not hot enough for you to risk your career over.” On Facebook, a classmate said he wanted to “bash her brains in.” A rumor circulated that Emma was pregnant.

In a deposition, Emma said she asked teachers for help, and recalled Jacobs telling her that the situation would blow over. (Jacobs said she didn’t remember whether Emma came to her.) Emma said she also talked with a female counselor at school, who in turn spoke to Lemmon, the magnet’s coordinator. Lemmon was teaching a class at the time, and his students overheard pieces of the conversation. “After that, I just didn’t feel comfortable telling her anything,” Emma said, referring to the counselor.

Emma was in Ray Linn’s class that semester. She liked Linn, and didn’t find him as abrasive as some other students did. According to Emma, one day as she was packing up to leave his classroom, Linn asked her, “How’s he doing?” It was clear to Emma that he was referring to Shufelt.

Emma was still seeing Shufelt in secret. She would ditch school early so they could spend a few hours together before she had to catch a bus home. When she cried about what was going on, he told her it wasn’t her fault. He called her “kiddo” and his “little center of attention.” When it came time for prom, he decorated his house and bought Emma a corsage so they could celebrate; she snuck out of the actual event to spend the night with him. Shufelt also set up Facebook accounts with fake names so they could communicate on the platform again. He once wrote, “I’m going to be good to you for the rest of our lives.” It was “exactly what I wanted to hear,” Emma said, “especially as a teenager.”

Emma graduated and went to Mills, where Shufelt visited her, hung out with her dorm mates, and bought them alcohol. When Emma turned 18, she and Shufelt went public with their relationship. Some people couldn’t shake their discomfort. Emma’s best friend recalled her mom seeing a picture of Emma and Shufelt together on Facebook and asking, “Who is that pedophile?” When Ben Daniel learned that Shufelt was dating a former student, she confronted him. “We got in a huge fight,” she said. The two friends never spoke again.

One day Shufelt told Emma that he’d bumped into his old teacher Chris Miller in the Valley. Emma knew Miller, who had retired just before she reached 11th grade, by reputation only—he was a mythic figure in the pantheon of Core faculty. Shufelt told Emma that Miller had said he was happy things were working out between them. “He was giving Brett his blessing,” Emma said, “for the way that everything happened.”

Emma felt grateful and reassured. In time, that would change.

Amy* had a routine. Once a week, starting around 2018, she typed the same search terms into Google: “Cleveland High School Reseda sexual abuse.” When she didn’t get the result she was looking for, she wasn’t discouraged. It would come. It had to.

Amy graduated from Core in 2001. According to her deposition, as a student she was close with Atkin, who told Amy that the first time she saw her, as a freshman, she knew she loved her and “needed to find out why.” Amy confided in Atkin about her insecurities and about clashes with her parents. Atkin “played the role of caretaker,” Amy said.

When Amy returned to Cleveland as a substitute teacher shortly after college, she started spending a lot of time with Atkin and Miller. In her deposition, Amy recalled Miller telling her that he and Atkin considered themselves “sexual mentors” for young people. “He would leave me phone messages, just giving advice on sex,” Amy said, “telling me the kinds of sex acts to do and how, what to say while I was doing these things.” According to Amy, Miller and Atkin also asked her to take photographs of them having sex. (In a deposition, Atkin denied this.)

When Miller indicated that he wanted to sleep with Amy, she told him she wasn’t attracted to older people—by then Miller was in his sixties. “He said I was ageist and … too looks-oriented,” Amy stated in her deposition. “He said I should try blindfolding myself when I had sex so that the person’s appearance wouldn’t matter so much.” According to Amy, her relationship with Miller never became physical.  

Brett Shufelt had been a classmate of Amy’s. When his resignation from Core became public knowledge in 2009, Amy recalled Miller saying it was “ridiculous that he had to leave Cleveland, because even the parents of the female student are supportive of their relationship. He twisted it into a thing where everyone was happy.” Miller also complained to Amy about former female students who suggested that he’d been inappropriate with them in high school. It seemed that one of the women was Zoe, who had graduated from Core the same year as Amy. Amy remembered hearing a rumor in high school that Miller was in love with Zoe. Back then she’d thought that, if it were true, “it just seemed to fit in with everything they were teaching us”—about removing barriers in their lives, about “free love.”

According to Amy, Miller and Atkin told her about Zoe confronting them in 2007, shortly after it occurred; she said they emphasized that nothing physical had happened with Zoe until she turned 18. In a deposition, Amy said Miller told her that he once let Zoe explore his naked body. “Vivian framed it as this wonderful, beautiful experience,” Amy told me. (In a deposition, Atkin said she told Amy “multiple times that there was no sex involved” in her and Miller’s relationship with Zoe.)

When Miller and Atkin said Zoe had a therapist who was putting “bad ideas” in her head, Amy was reassured. Then, in 2015, she reconnected with Zoe—the two women happened to be living in the same city when Miller died suddenly of natural causes a month before his 70th birthday. They spoke on the phone about his passing and later met for brunch, where Amy heard Zoe’s accusations firsthand. She was horrified. Some of the details sounded familiar, except that what Amy experienced as a young adult happened to Zoe when she was a minor, and had reportedly progressed to sexual abuse. The allegations were also in sharp contrast to the fond memories that, in the wake of Miller’s death, some former students were sharing on Facebook. “I remember him as someone who in teaching us about the world, helped us to discover ourselves,” one alum wrote.

Amy felt guilty for ever trusting Miller and Atkin. She also felt betrayed. “I know who they are now completely,” she told me. “They gravitated toward young females … who would be susceptible to the allure of the special attention and mentorship they offered.”

Amy’s weekly googling started a few years after she met with Zoe. The #MeToo movement was in full swing by then, and the cultural conversation about sexual abuse was more robust than ever. It seemed as though new women came forward every day to demand that powerful men be held responsible for their crimes or transgressions. Many survivors described abuse that happened years or even decades prior, which time, distance, and maturity had helped them finally reckon with.

In California, the law seemed to be catching up to the moment: On January 1, 2020, the state implemented a new statute of limitations on claims of childhood sexual abuse. Previously, survivors had been required to file suit by the age of 26 or within three years of realizing they’d been abused. Now survivors must do so by the time they turn 40 or within five years of the recognition of abuse. California also created a three-year window in which survivors previously barred from suing their abusers can file claims.

Amy was sure someone from Core would come forward, and on February 5, 2021, she finally got the search result she’d been waiting for. “Woman sues LAUSD, claiming 2 Cleveland High teachers groomed, manipulated and sexually abused her,” a Los Angeles Daily News headline read. The woman was a Jane Doe, but Amy was sure it was Zoe.

Zoe was on a plane when a friend sent her a link to an article about the changes to California’s statute of limitations. She began to cry—it felt like a door was finally opening. In the five years since Miller’s death, she’d been wrestling with how to process what happened during high school. In true Core fashion, she’d considered going the route of transformative justice: requesting that her friends and Atkin meet in a communal space to discuss the harm done and what accountability might entail. But the more she thought about it, the more inadequate that approach seemed. “I can’t do transformative justice with LAUSD, because they don’t care about my healing,” Zoe told me. “So I started to consider which route to take for more widespread recognition, for more possibility of larger systemic change.”

Zoe contacted Taylor & Ring, an LA law firm that specializes in sexual abuse cases. She told them her story, and that she was certain she wasn’t the only victim. “I can’t talk about my abuse without talking about all the abuse,” she explained. “It’s this massive onion, layer after layer after layer.” It was an apt metaphor: Onions can rot from the inside out. On February 3, 2021, Zoe sued Atkin and LAUSD.

Like Amy, Emma learned about Zoe’s case in the Daily News. Reading the details felt like discovering a trove of puzzle pieces that, when she fit them together with ones from her own life, revealed a disturbing picture. Emma had no idea who the plaintiff was—several years separated their time in Core. But she knew the woman had been classmates with Shufelt, because they were both 37.

Emma and Shufelt had remained together for a few years while she attended Mills. When she decided to study abroad, Shufelt had paid for her visa and flight. They agreed to be nonexclusive while she was away, but she never thought he’d start seeing someone else seriously. She was shocked when he began dating a woman closer to his age.

In 2019, Emma started having nightmares about Shufelt and the anxiety she’d felt after he quit Core. “I was slowly coming to the realization that the relationship was wrong, and the way that I was treated was wrong, and those adults should have done something,” she told me, referring to the magnet faculty and the Cleveland administration. Two years later, reading about Zoe’s lawsuit was eye-opening. “This Cleveland stuff is way more than I thought,” Emma texted a friend.

She realized that her experience might be part of a pattern. She and Shufelt were both “products of the program,” Emma said, “and this is how it ended”—with him hurting her the way two Core teachers had allegedly hurt his own classmate, and with Emma believing it wasn’t abuse because she’d been taught that she was different, exceptional, impervious. Emma remembered Miller congratulating Shufelt on their relationship. In retrospect she found it disgusting.

Emma called Taylor & Ring and left a message on the office’s answering machine. “I said I one hundred percent believe that this happened exactly the way she was describing it, because I had a very similar experience,” Emma said. On February 10, 2021, Emma filed her own lawsuit, against Shufelt and LAUSD. At the time, Shufelt was teaching in the Valley, working with teenagers and young adults pursuing their high school diplomas through alternative programming. California’s Commission on Teacher Credentialing contains no record of disciplinary action taken against him after what occurred at Cleveland. (Shufelt took his own life in October 2021, a month after being arrested for soliciting a female undercover police officer posing as a sex worker.)

For Jackie, the news about Core came out of the blue: A high school friend sent her a link to the Daily News article about Zoe’s case, with no message attached. “I had never really talked to her about what happened,” Jackie said of her friend, “but she knew enough.” When Jackie read the article she cried. “In some ways it was this comforting thing, knowing I’m not alone,” she told me. “On the other hand, I wasn’t special.” At 42, Jackie still had the residue of what Miller had made her believe about herself lodged in her psyche. “Even though it’s gross, that stuff runs really deep,” she said.

Jackie knew right away that she wanted to help Zoe. “I was in awe of this person coming forward,” she said. “I had to let her know she wasn’t alone.” She started furiously typing an email to Zoe’s attorneys, then told herself to take a breath, to sit with her feelings for 24 hours. But they didn’t change. She was ready to talk. On March 12, 2021, Jackie filed a lawsuit against LAUSD.

Kate was returning from a beach vacation with her family when she, too, got a text from a high school friend about the lawsuits. “Wasn’t Mr. Coleman inappropriate toward you?” Kate’s friend asked. Kate had remained intensely private about her experiences in Core. Over the years, fueled by glasses of wine, friends had sometimes tried to cajole information out of her, to confirm if the rumors they’d heard about her and Coleman were true. “I never appreciated that,” Kate told me. Now she needed time to process what the text said, to let the news sink in. “It was a crazy school with what seemed like little administrative oversight,” she eventually wrote back. “Really horrible.”

In her own time, Kate contacted Taylor & Ring. Initially, it was just to share information; she didn’t know if she wanted to pursue a case. In her mind, even though he’d hurt her, Coleman wasn’t a monster. As survivors of grooming often do, she felt to some degree protective of her alleged abuser. “It took me some time to realize how inappropriate it was, and how it was abuse, and what I thought was all good or almost all good really wasn’t,” Kate said.

The facts of the other cases helped sway her. Zoe’s alleged abuse began three years after Kate graduated from Core; Emma’s occurred more than a decade later. In all that time it didn’t seem like the magnet, the Cleveland administration, or LAUSD had taken any meaningful steps to protect students. “Broadly, I want to hold them all accountable,” Kate said.

On March 15, 2021, she filed suit, naming Coleman and LAUSD as defendants. She became the fourth and, for now, final plaintiff. “We’re convinced that there are absolutely more victims,” said John Taylor, one of the attorneys representing the Jane Does.


In depositions and interviews, there have been many more revelations about the behavior of Core teachers that, while not necessarily illegal, was distressing to the alumni who experienced it. A classmate of Emma’s recalled a conversation she had with a female teacher in 2009, soon after Shufelt resigned, in which the teacher said it disturbed her that Shufelt got involved with Emma, who had “a little girl’s body.” In a deposition, Emma’s classmate described the female teacher saying, “Out of all the girls that he could have picked, and I’m not saying that he should have picked any of you, but some of you … are, like, very well developed for your age.”

The same classmate said that Shufelt had flirted with her once when she was a student. They were alone in his classroom when he put his arms on either side of the desk where she was sitting and called her a “special girl.” Later, after Shufelt quit, he told Emma, “If it wasn’t you, it would have been her,” referring to her classmate.

At the time, Emma awkwardly laughed off the idea that she and another student could be interchangeable to a man who said he loved her. Emma also dismissed an uncomfortable experience she had with Coleman, who had taught her in the 10th grade, just before he left Core. They reconnected after Emma graduated, becoming Facebook friends and chatting online. “We would email these long emails and he would say, ‘I really miss you,’ ” Emma recalled. In one message, Coleman said he wanted to kiss her.

Emma is one of numerous women who have described Coleman flirting with or pursuing them after they graduated. One alum read me Coleman’s inscription in her senior yearbook, describing a memory he had of her as “erotic.” Rachel Becker said under oath that Coleman sent her a love poem when she was in college. Another Core alum said in a deposition that Coleman asked her out in 1999, when she was 22, and that they dated for several months until she realized he had “a pattern of behavior” in which he became “sexually and romantically involved with women who were far, far younger than him.” To her mind, there was “really only one source where he would be meeting these women.” In a written message obtained as part of discovery in the 2021 lawsuits, Coleman himself told a Core alum that he “date[d] an ex-student and we were together for seven years.”

After she graduated from Core, Kasia Kappes exchanged letters with Coleman for a while. He wrote, “if you were older i’d marry you,” and said she was his “favorite.” Kappes attended college in Los Angeles, and during her freshman year—at the same time he was allegedly abusing Kate—Coleman said he had feelings for Kappes and invited her over to his house for a lobster dinner. When she backed out at the last minute, Coleman “was so mad,” Kappes recalled. “He yelled at me, called me immature.”

One of the things Coleman riffed on in his letters to Kappes was the 1994 camping trip he’d taken female students on to Arizona. Ariane White, the alum who later gave up teaching at Cleveland because of conflict with veteran teachers, was on that trip—she was a senior at the time. In a deposition, White said that the other adult chaperone, David DeMetz, kissed her when they were alone in a tent. White recalled DeMetz telling her, “Richard said as long as I don’t have sex with you, it’s fine.” In an interview, White told me that the comment had made her feel “safe,” because “I’m here with my teacher and he said … nothing bad will happen.” (DeMetz stated in a deposition that he didn’t remember the kiss or Coleman telling him not to have sex with the students.)

Another female student on the camping trip, who briefly taught in Core after college, was one of two former faculty members who in depositions said that Miller encouraged his colleagues to read the book Teaching to Transgress, by bell hooks. In one chapter, hooks, a longtime college professor, describes being sexually attracted to a former student. To the Core alum turned teacher, Miller’s implication was clear: “It’s OK to date students,” she said under oath, “because … love is love, and love transcends power dynamics.”

Dani Bedau, who graduated in 1985, with one of the first cohorts of Core students, told me that Miller tested personal boundaries right from the start of the program. He invited Bedau to meals off campus and told her she was exceptional. On Miller’s recommendation, Bedau participated in Brotherhood-Sisterhood Camp—the program Jackie would attend a decade later, where a counselor warned her away from Miller. After college, Bedau went to work for the camp’s parent organization, which was how she learned that Miller, formerly a volunteer camp counselor, was no longer welcome in the program. Bedau didn’t know the specifics of what Miller had done, but she remembered a rumor from her time at camp about him getting into a hot tub with a teenage girl.

Lori Nelson, Bedau’s boss and another former camper, had heard about the incident firsthand: At a sleepover with Brotherhood-Sisterhood attendees in the early 1980s, a girl arrived late and described being caught in a hot tub with Miller by his wife. Nelson said that, after she took over administration of the camp in 1988, “Chris Miller stepped not one foot in it.” She described him as adept at “psychological seduction” and criticized some of the teaching methods he introduced to Core. Nelson said the power pyramid was once a Brotherhood-Sisterhood activity, but that staff stopped using it in the mid-1980s because they felt it gave adults too much agency at teenagers’ expense. “Guys like Chris, they like the big drama where they are in the position of power,” Nelson said.

A Cleveland alumni Facebook group exploded with activity when Daily News articles about the 2021 lawsuits were posted there. Some graduates expressed dismay at the accusations. Some said they weren’t surprised—to them, teachers sleeping with students had practically been an open secret. Other alumni expressed a kind of grief. “Looking back I see so much boundary pushing that should never have taken place, but at the time seemed normal,” one woman wrote. Referring to Miller specifically, she added, “It’s hard to grapple with the truth that the same qualities that made him a favourite were the same ones that allowed him to successfully groom and abuse students.”

Marty Kravchak participated in the Facebook conversation, writing that, as a fellow teacher, she “never had any hint” about Miller’s behavior. “I wish someone had trusted me enough to confide in me,” she commented. When an alum wrote that she was aware of “three male teachers who had relations with girls in 88 and 89,” Kravchak, who retired from Core in 2007, asked if the former student ever told her parents. “Nobody said anything because we were not in positions of power,” the alum replied. “We had everything to lose.”

The majority of Core alumni interviewed for this story are educators, activists, artists, or caregivers. They are the kind of people who, in early 2022, applauded the unionization of Amazon workers on Staten Island, and later raged over the Supreme Court opinion overturning Roe v. Wade. They oppose banning books in school libraries and believe that America’s history of systemic racism should be taught in public classrooms. All of them, including the Jane Does, praised Core for pushing them to dive deep into subjects that most high schoolers never so much as skim.

Many of the alumni I spoke to know their stories might be used in service of a right-wing agenda to destroy programs like Core, but they won’t be cowed from telling the truth. They have aimed their grievances at the people once in charge of the magnet, the pedagogy the faculty used, and LAUSD’s apparent resistance to corrective action over many years. “I don’t care how many people get into college because of this great humanities program,” said Amy, who is now a teacher. “If the safety of children is not a priority, you cannot claim to have any dedication to social justice.”

Today, Core is thriving. From its perch at Cleveland, which is now a public charter school, it has been designated a School of Distinction by the Magnet Schools of America. There is a waiting list for admission: In 2020, some 450 students applied for the roughly 250 spots available to incoming freshmen. Monica Ramallo-Young, a parent of twins who graduated in 2022, said that what impressed her most about the magnet was students’ passion for the curriculum. “Kids in Core say they’re studying the most fascinating stuff and learning so much,” Ramallo-Young told me. “They develop a love of learning.”

The curriculum remains much the same as it has been for the past several decades, with some updated materials. Juniors, for instance, now watch 13th, Ava DuVernay’s award-winning documentary about mass incarceration. “If a program like this were implemented across the country, it would solve a lot of our country’s current problems,” Ramallo-Young said. “It does a good job teaching compassion and humanity, and helping you grow as a person.”

Ray Linn, the last of the old-guard faculty, retired in 2018. More than one-quarter of the current magnet teachers are alumni of the program—former “Corebabies,” as magnet students call themselves. The program’s coordinator, Jennifer Macon, has been on the faculty for more than twenty years. Her own daughter is a Core student.

In a deposition, Macon described the allegations made by alumni—some of whom were once her students—as a “gut punch.” Yet she said she isn’t concerned about any of her colleagues crossing the line with students. “My radar is very heightened,” she said. “But we haven’t had substantive conversations about what all of this means for us as a program in terms of relationships with students, because I don’t see it as a problem.” If there was abuse in Core, Macon emphasized, it is firmly in the past.

“Having a 15-year-old daughter is incredibly helpful for me having compassion for myself, Jackie said.

For the Jane Does, the past is the point. Illuminating and grappling with it can offer vital lessons about what it takes to open young minds while protecting them, at Cleveland and beyond. It can also help a person heal.

On their lawyers’ instruction, the plaintiffs have not spoken or otherwise interacted with each other. Some of them don’t even know the other women’s identities. They all expressed to me a profound desire to meet one day, when the time is right. But for now, in her own way, on her own terms, each woman is navigating the emotional aftershocks that come with reporting abuse.

Zoe asked to be interviewed on a beach in Malibu—she felt at peace there, she said. She invited a friend to be with her. Zoe referred to the Core alumni supporting her through the lawsuit as “my team.” They take care of each other now in ways they never knew how to as teenagers. On the beach, Zoe’s friend encouraged her to take breaks and sip water while telling her story. Zoe is a visual artist, and she’s creating a series of pieces that represent her high school experience. She hopes to stage a show one day, and to bill it as a Core reunion.

Kate asked me detailed questions and offered research ideas—in another life, she might have been an investigative reporter. Her high school journal, the one Coleman was nervous someone would read, now stands as a testament to the truth. The Jane Does have asked for jury trials, and as of this writing, Kate’s is scheduled for May 2023. If it goes forward, she will face Coleman in court and have a chance to describe how his alleged abuse shaped her. The grooming, Kate said, is what had the most powerful impact—Coleman muddled her sense of self, and of what is safe and not, triggering internal conflicts that she still sometimes struggles to resolve.

Emma’s apartment in Los Angeles is plastered with labor rights posters. She increasingly dabbles in her two passions—writing and progressive politics—despite being anxious about public-facing work. In some ways, Shufelt’s alleged abuse isn’t what wounded her the most: The way people reacted to it was. She sometimes worries about bullies coming for her like they did when she was 17.

Jackie met me at a bustling restaurant where songs by No Doubt and Sublime, pop hits from the end of her high school days, pulsed through mounted speakers. She confessed that she once harbored a “grain-of-rice-size feeling” that she could have stopped Miller’s abuse, but her own child becoming a teenager has softened her propensity for self-blame. “Having a 15-year-old daughter is incredibly helpful for me having compassion for myself,” Jackie said. “I look at her and think, If you came to me and told me this happened, there is not any size feeling I would have that you had put yourself in that position.”

When she filed her lawsuit, Jackie told her daughter what Miller had done, and she offered advice she wishes someone had given her: Trust your intuition, and walk away if you feel even the tiniest bit unsafe or unsure. “If you’re not comfortable telling me, let’s talk about the people that you are comfortable talking to,” Jackie told her daughter. “You have to tell somebody, because when you don’t, it happens again and again. If we have the opportunity to stop someone from getting hurt, we should do that.”

Jackie’s interview took place over her spring break—she went back to school full-time a few years ago. Once, in a speech class, she had to deliver a eulogy for someone. She chose Miller. “I mostly talked about the things he taught me, and all the pieces of him that stayed with me,” she said. “My wrap-up was about how people aren’t always what they seem.”

Jackie is now a semester away from earning her college degree. She plans to become a social worker and help adolescents. She relishes learning, something that for so long she felt had been denied to her by the actions of a teacher. Being a student is like reclaiming a piece of herself that Miller stole. “I love it,” Jackie said. “I feel like I want to be in school forever.”

This story has been updated to better describe the magnitude of the 1994 earthquake.


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No Place Like Home

In 2005, a pair of ruby slippers worn by Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz was stolen from her hometown in Minnesota. Who took the iconic shoes, and where did they go? In an eight-part narrative podcast, two journalists search for answers.

No Place Like Home

The Atavist Magazine, No. 116


No Place Like Home is a presentation, direction, and production of C13Originals, a Cadence13 Studio, in partnership with The Atavist Magazine. Cadence 13 is an Audacy company.

Ariel Ramchandani is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in The Atlantic, The Guardian, Undark, and other publications. Her story “When the Devil Enters” was published by The Atavist in November 2016. 

Seyward Darby is the editor in chief of The Atavist.

Reporter and Writer: Ariel Ramchandani
Cohosts: Seyward Darby and Ariel Ramchandani
Executive Producer: Chris Corcoran
Director: Lloyd Lochridge
Editor: Alistair Shurman
Producers: Paige Hymson and Valerie Thomas
Engineering, Research, and Production Support: Patrick Antonetti, Sean Cherry, Adam Przybyl, Ian Mandt, Bill Shultz, and Bob Tabaddor
Mixing and Mastering: Chris Basil
Art Director: Ed Johnson
Illustrator: Joel Kimmel


Prologue

They were supposed to be silver—silver slippers on a golden road. That’s how Dorothy’s shoes are described in L. Frank Baum’s 1900 book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. But in the film version, the color changed. A screenwriter hastily crossed out “silver.” Technicolor was about thinking brighter. The shoes would be ruby instead. 

The Wizard of Oz had five directors over the course of its development, which resulted in a carousel of auteurial visions. The design for the slippers changed, too. First they were simple, then ornate, then somewhere in between. The final version started out as white silk pumps, manufactured by the Innes Shoe Company in Los Angeles. They were the type of shoes a woman might wear to work, priced at around $12. At Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the studio behind The Wizard of Oz, the costume department wrapped the pumps in red netting, then hand-stitched sequins onto them with silk thread. There were thousands of sequins, made of clear plastic with burgundy paint applied, so they’d appear bright red under the studio lights. The last touches on Dorothy’s soon-to-be-famous shoes were pronged rhinestone bows. 

How many pairs were made? Some film historians say seven, because actors’ contracts stipulated a clean costume for every day of the week. But there may have been more, or fewer. Shoes for close-ups, sparkling and pristine. Shoes for dancing and skipping, with felt attached to the soles to muffle any scraping and tapping. Slippers for Judy Garland, with her name written on the tan leather interiors. Slippers for her stand-in, who was on set until the last possible moment before a take, while Garland did schoolwork in her trailer. Garland was only 16, but so talented that she could nail a dance sequence on the first try as if she’d been rehearsing it all day. 

When did you see The Wizard of Oz for the first time? Christmas, maybe—your cheeks flush from a cozy fire, crinkled wrapping paper scattered around you on the living room floor. Film critics and historians have described it as the most American of movies: Home is in the heartland; evil emanates from the East and West; the city is all smoke and mirrors. The film offers comfort but also excitement—it’s an adventure into literal color. And it all begins with the slippers. 

The conversation between Dorothy and Glinda in Munchkinland is surprisingly short. Where is Glinda going in her glowing bubble? Why isn’t she more helpful? The Good Witch warns the girl who fell from the sky never to remove the red shoes that have suddenly appeared on her feet. “Keep tight inside of them,” Glinda chirps before she vanishes. “Their magic must be very powerful.”

Do not for your life let go of the shoes. Dorothy doesn’t. One step, then another, with an elegant flick of her foot. Her world is widening with every skip and stride. 

The ruby slippers became iconic. Ask anyone who cares about them why they do and they’ll echo Glinda: magic.

Four known pairs remain in the world. One was given away by MGM in 1939, as part of the promotion for the film’s release, to a lucky woman in Tennessee. That pair was later sold at auction, and then again to an anonymous buyer. The shoes haven’t been seen publicly since 2000. Rumor has it that a major celebrity—someone like Oprah—is probably their owner now. 

Another pair was sold in 1970, at a first-of-its-kind Hollywood memorabilia auction intended to clear MGM’s backlot of what executives had decided was mostly junk. A young man named Kent Warner felt differently; he believed MGM was sitting on a gold mine. He was hired to sift through piles of props and costumes and to catalog the items suitable for auction. According to industry legend, Warner unearthed at least three pairs of the ruby slippers in MGM’s wardrobe storage, high up in a warehouse. One set became the star of the auction. Warner presented the shoes to prospective buyers on a velvet pillow. They sold for $15,000—nearly $100,000 today—and then were donated to the Smithsonian a few years later. Now people line up to see them behind glass at the National Museum of American History. They’re the most requested item on view; visitors arrive at the front desk and ask, “Where can I find the slippers?” When they see them, glittering in their display case, some people cry, like they’ve encountered the Shroud of Turin. 

Another pair Warner kept for himself, and MGM didn’t stop him. These are the nicest slippers, in the best condition. They may have been used in the close-ups at the beginning of the film, when the slippers sit on the stockinged feet of the witch crushed by Dorothy’s house. In the telling of Rhys Thomas, who wrote the definitive history of the shoes, their allure began to overwhelm Warner. People came to his house to see them instead of him. As Thomas put it, “The charm of the slippers plain wore Kent out.” Warner sold them in 1980, perhaps to pay for his medical treatment: He died four years later of an AIDS-related illness. Warner’s pair was eventually acquired by Leonardo DiCaprio and Steven Spielberg, who plan to exhibit it in the yet to open Academy Museum of Motion Picture Arts. 

This podcast is about the last authenticated pair of ruby slippers that Warner found. He sold them for about $2,500 to a friend, a child actor turned memorabilia collector named Michael Shaw, who’d become entranced with The Wizard of Oz when he was under contract at MGM. For more than 30 years, Shaw took his shoes on the road, lending them to museums and showing them at charity events. They became known as the Traveling Shoes. 

In 2005, these slippers made their way to Grand Rapids, Minnesota, Garland’s hometown. They went on display that summer at the Judy Garland Museum, a quaint, kitschy landmark attached to the movie star’s childhood home—a white clapboard house with a porch. The museum advertised the slippers like crazy, and people came in droves to see them. Kids often arrived in costume. There were a lot of Dorothys.

The shoes were supposed to be in Grand Rapids until Labor Day. But late one night that August, someone broke into the museum and took them. All that magic—and the millions it was worth—disappeared in an instant.

Where did the ruby slippers go? And who took them? Finding the stolen slippers became a matter of cultural resurrection and, for some people, an obsession. 

Welcome to No Place Like Home.

—Ariel Ramchandani, Writer and Cohost

Seyward Darby, Cohost


Binge the full season on Apple Podcasts.

No Place Like Home is a production of C13Originals, a Cadence13 Studio, in partnership with The Atavist Magazine.


  1. Introducing: Wolves Among Us, Season 1, The Larry Lavin Story
  2. They Don't Like Being Owned
  3. Very Accomplished Thieves
  4. Everything Is Lining Up
  5. Who Can You Trust?
  6. Dear Dorothy, Hate Oz, Took Shoes
  7. Terribly Happy
  8. The Robin Hood of Hollywood
  9. The Ruby Slippers Are Gone
  10. Welcome to No Place Like Home

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