The friendship between teacher and student blossomed into an infatuation on a European high school trip in March 2006.
But Leslie Merlino, then 36, knew she was headed for career-ending danger.
Later, she stroked the girl's hair and began sending emails. That would lead to an assault charge and a court order to stay away from the student.
From January to September 2007, they exchanged sexually explicit emails and talked frequently on the phone and in person.
They held hands during strolls and met secretly in coffee shops. They kissed and fondled each other in their more private moments. By late summer of 2007, the suspended teacher and former student had become lovers.
In the fall of 2007, despite the court order, Merlino took her young lover, then 18, to Quebec City.
Today, Merlino, 39, is living with her mother in London, Ont., where she is unemployed with no chance of ever teaching again.
But there is nothing to stop her from being with her former student.
Merlino avoided jail yesterday but was placed on the Ontario sex registry for 20 years and ordered to submit her DNA to the national data bank.
She received a suspended sentence with a 12-month probation after pleading guilty in a Brampton courtroom to three charges – sexual exploitation, breach of probation and fail to comply with a court order.
While Justice Bruce Durno did not impose non-contact orders on the now 20-year-old student or Merlino, it is not known whether they continue to have a relationship.
"This is a tragic tale of woman who succumbed to temptation and destroyed her career," Merlino's lawyer, Gerald Logan, told the court.
The former teacher at Streetsville Secondary School in Mississauga did not speak to reporters yesterday.
Neither the student nor her parents were in court. The student, who cannot be identified, did not file a victim impact statement, and asked to be "left alone" in an email to the Star.
The student's parents, who live in Mississauga, declined to comment.
The 20-year-old's relationship status on Facebook is listed as "engaged."
In a Facebook note "25 things about me," she has written: "Sometimes, I freak out, that I made a mistake. And I shouldn't be with the person I'm with. Other times, I don't know how we've managed to spend so much time apart."
Meanwhile, in court, Merlino chose not to say anything before Durno imposed the joint submission presented by Peel Crown prosecutor Kelly Slate and Logan.
The judge gave her the equivalent of eight months' time served for her pre-trial custody and curfew, telling her that she would likely have been sent to jail had these penalties not been in place.
Merlino was arrested on Oct. 12, 2007, after returning from the Quebec City tryst, when a Peel police officer saw the young woman get into Merlino's car in Toronto, a violation of the court order.
Merlino spent 2 1/2 months in custody after her arrest before she was granted bail on Dec. 21, 2007. She has also been on a restricted curfew.
"A career has been lost ... these offences are serious, a flagrant breach of court orders," Durno said.
"Regardless of the (victim's) wishes, it was Merlino who was in a position of trust and authority."
Logan told the court that it was clear his client and the student had a mutually agreeable relationship that slowly evolved.
He said while the student initiated the contact through text messaging, Merlino should have been the one to end it because of her position of authority.
By all accounts, Merlino was one of the best-liked teachers at the Streetsville school, where she taught Spanish and French to Grade 10 and 11 students, including her young lover.
A disciplinary tribunal of the Ontario College of Teachers revoked her teaching certificate earlier this spring for reasons of professional misconduct.
She had already stopped teaching in October 2006, and officially resigned in
With files from Raveena Aulakh