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.
Teacher Suspended, Arrested, Found Not Guilty of Rumored Actions
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.
Howell said the beginning of her first year as a teacher was going well until early December, when she started hearing rumors in the hallway.
"There were a couple of students snickering about a teacher involved in a threesome," she said.
Then, the second boy, who was supposedly involved, then a senior, told her the rumors were about him, her and the accuser.
"I'm a first-year teacher," Howell said. "I didn't know what to do."
So she sought the advice of a fellow teacher, who told her to speak to the principal to get ahead of the rumor mill.
The principal, she said, "told me at the time ... usually these things die out. We'll look into it.'"
Rumor Leads to Job Loss, Arrest
For a few days, it seemed like the matter had petered out.
Howell said she was told that both boys told the principal there was no sexual contact. Other rumors that followed, including that the accuser's father drove his son to her apartment for sex, were also disproved, Howell said.
But on Dec. 15, when she was suspended, Howell said the principal told her that the accuser, who had been threatened with possible expulsion for lying about such a serious allegation, had recanted his denial and was accusing Howell of having sex with him.
Howell said she left school in disbelief and hired a lawyer.
Howell said that while she knew who her accuser was and had interacted with him as part of the football-cheerleading team dynamic, she never once laid a hand on him or any other student, nor had she even been alone with him in school or otherwise.
Somehow, she said, the boy had gotten her cell phone number, and the two had begun a series of text messages in October and November. But Howell didn't think anything of it, since 25 cheerleaders on the team had her number and text-messaged her also. And she knew of other teachers who texted their students.
But Howell, whose apartment was photographed by Covington police, learned in early January that there was a warrant out for her arrest. She said a detective told her that she could come in and take a polygraph test that might clear the matter up.
So she did, but not before submitting to a private polygraph, which Howell said she "passed with flying colors."
When Howell got to the police station Jan. 8, she was told she could not take a polygraph test. After being placed in the waiting room for more than an hour, she was arrested on one count of first-degree sexual abuse.
Her parents bailed her out of jail a few hours later.
"I want to be exonerated," she said before the trial. "I want this case to be dismissed."
The jury deliberated for less than two hours before acquitting her in the four-day Kenton County trial.
Had she been convicted, Howell could have faced one to 5 years in prison, county Commonwealth Assistant Attorney Stefanie Kastner told ABC News in July.
She would have also had to register as a sex offender for 20 years.