Former teacher Nicole Howell was found not guilty last week of having had a sexual relationship with a student, but that did not stop the rumor from destroying her career, getting her arrested and ruining her life, she said today.
"My life is ruined. Completely," Howell told "Good Morning America" in an exclusive interview. "My name has been dragged through the mud. I won't be able to teach again. Not because I did anything -- I did not -- but because of the situation."
Her ordeal started in December, when she was suspended from her job as a teacher and assistant cheerleading coach at a Kentucky high school after one of the male students, a 16-year-old football player, claimed the two had had a sexual relationship.
Howell, 26, of Florence, denied that the encounters ever happened and argued that the only evidence against her were the ramblings of a high school kid who, at first, claimed the two had been involved in a threesome with another male student.
Investigators arrested Howell the next month on felony sex abuse charges.
"I think, honestly, it started because people overreacted," Howell said today. "They took something that they thought looked like what they wanted it to look like -- like a stereotype, 'a teacher is accused by a student,' and automatically, it happened. ... That's why I went to trial."
Much of the prosecution at last week's trial focused on the more than 800 text messages exchanged between Howell and the student in a period of about a month and a half.
But Howell said she "texts like that to everyone -- students, teachers, cheerleaders" and compared the number to the nearly 2,000 messages she'd exchanged with her boyfriend in similar time periods.
Howell said she did not send the student any sexually explicit text messages, although he did send her some. She admitted that she should have stopped the messaging altogether.
"I should've said, 'That's inappropriate.' I blew it off. It was something I dealt with on a daily basis with other students, other male students," she said.
The school district had no policy against text messaging, Howell's attorney, Eric Deters, said today, calling the accusations "preposterous."
Howell, now working at a bank, said she would love to return to teaching but believes the scandal of the trial would follow her everywhere.
"It's what I've always wanted to do," she said. "I don't think I'll get that opportunity again."
Although it's unlikely anything will happen to her accuser, Deters said, Howell plans to file civil litigation against unspecified targets.
Howell was a first-year English teacher finishing up a lesson on Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" when she was pulled out of her Dayton High School classroom in December and told she was being suspended.
"I thought it was preposterous," she said in July.
Howell, a graduate of Northern Kentucky University, said she was inspired to teach by one of her former high school teachers.
When she was hired at Dayton High School, Howell said she found it challenging. The town was home to many low-income families and the schools often went without.
"I liked it a lot," she told ABC News in July. "It was a lot, a lot of work."
She was also an assistant cheerleading coach, putting her right in the middle of a throng of cheerleaders and football players who practiced and socialized side by side.