What should happen to teachers who have sex with students?

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Boyd Brown picked at my friends at The State the other day over the above headline, which inevitably makes one think, “And in related news, Squad Helps Dog Bite Victim“… In The State‘s defense, they caught it and fixed it — I can’t find it anywhere online now. (That’s the awful thing about the 24-hour news cycle. Used to be, you had a chance to catch these things before anyone saw them. Now, even when you catch it, it’s already out there and somebody has preserved it.)

Of course, this is no laughing matter, however much our inner 8th-grader may snicker. There are serious issues at stake. I was intrigued by this angle, raised in a long letter to the editor yesterday:

Don’t prosecute Dreher teacher for having sex with students

The two young men whom a Dreher teacher allegedly or admittedly engaged in sexual intercourse were above the age of consent. There are no allegations of coercion, intimidation, payments or rewards offered or given in return for sex.

Had the teacher been a neighbor or a family friend, a Mrs. Robinson if you will, there would be no crime.

I believe it is unconstitutional to have one law for teachers and another one for everyone else. An act should either be a crime if anyone does it or it should not be a crime…

Of course the teacher should be decertified, fired and counseled. But she never should have been arrested, she should not face prosecution, and she should fight for the right of teachers to not be made criminals for what other women can do without a threat of prosecution…

What do y’all think? Should this be a criminal matter, or merely an administrative one for the district’s H.R. folks to handle?

Personally, I’m not a bit bothered, at least in theory, by the existence of a “double standard” whereby teachers are treated differently from other folks. They hold a special public trust, and should be accordingly accountable to the public.

I just don’t have a strong opinion one way or the other as to whether that accountability should extend to criminal prosecution. Perhaps some of y’all can clarify my thinking on that…

72 thoughts on “What should happen to teachers who have sex with students?

  1. bud

    I agree with the letter writer. If it’s a crime for one it should be crime for all. Fire her for violating school rules but leave the law out of it.

  2. bud

    “They hold a special public trust, and should be accordingly accountable to the public.”

    Do they? Do teachers hold a special public trust moreso than a private violin teacher, McDonalds,The State newspaper or a Church? Not sure I see how this is a distinction that needs to be made.

  3. Brad Warthen Post author

    Yes. Not only are they public employees, but they are entrusted with the care and nurturing of society’s children, who are required by law to attend school. This is not true of “a private violin teacher, McDonalds, The State newspaper or a Church.”

  4. Silence

    My juvenile side says “where were the hot female teachers sleeping with students when I was growing up?” but of course it’s more serious than that, as you stated. I think that teachers, coaches and the like have a certain degree of influence and control over childrens’ lives, as well as a frequency of contact that other adults do not. I think there was a special law created to criminalize exactly this type of situation – where the student is above the age of consent – but still a student.
    First off, how can discipline and proper decorum be maintained in a classroom if there is fraternization going on? Who’s to say how much influence or coersion was really applied? Secondly, if this were a male teacher nobody would be coming to his defense. Period.

  5. Karen McLeod

    The problem, as I see it, is that teachers are in a position of power, whether they overtly use that power to coerce their victims or not. That and the victim’s youth make this more than simply a non criminal ethics violation. It becomes a problem of sexual harassment that is compounded by the victim’s age and immaturity. Presumably this incident occured with an adolescent who was under the age of consent. I don’t imagine he complained about it, but that doesn’t alter the dynamics here.

  6. tavis micklash

    If this was a guy teacher and not a fairly hot chic he would be CRUSHED.

    Would there be a Letter to the Editor defending a Guy teacher for messing around with 17 year old girls?

  7. Brad Warthen Post author

    By the way, while we’re talking about teachers in trouble…

    Tavis Micklash, on another thread, brings our attention to a post on Bryan Caskey’s blog about the teacher accused of stomping on a flag, allegedly to make some point about symbols that remains unclear.

    I responded to Bryan’s post thusly:

    Yeah, I’d really sort of like to see video of this teacher’s presentation, since his attorney maintains that it is defensible.

    As you suggest, why on Earth would an English teacher seek to convey that symbols are meaningless, or lack power? Must be a literary postmodernist or something…

    1. Karen McLeod

      As I understood that story about the English teacher stamping on the flag, he was trying to explain that while the flag per se is simply a piece of cloth, it upsets people to see it stepped on precisely because of it’s power as a symbol. It ranks right up there with burning a Qu’ran or Bible as a really poor way of making this point. It gets people so upset that they are no longer thinking about the abstract point that the teacher is trying to make, because they are so angered over what the teacher did to the symbol.

  8. Mark Stewart

    Lot’s of people have careers that require an extra degree of trust and legal responsibility that do not fall on people outside of that profession or occupation.

    In the same way, teachers (among others) are compelled by law to notify the authorities about suspected abuse. Seems to me like she ought to have reported herself – twice over, I think I read.

  9. Doug Ross

    I’m with Bud. No special law for teachers. She loses her job and will never teach again. Her family
    life is likely destroyed. By 16-17, these “boys” are closer to men and hardly need “nurturing”.
    I’d like to see some evidence that the young men have been damaged in some way before putting
    her in prison.

  10. Mark Stewart

    I think the Chapin teacher was trying to say (badly) that the symbol of the flag is real, but the cloth is just cloth. It seems to me that that is a common thing often spoken of in church. It is also what we say when we see Iranians and Iraqis and whoever burning the flag and stepping on it. We just shrug and call them misguided, though maybe in stronger language.

    Suspending him, with pay, for the week would seem to be enough of a punishment. Fire the Chapin teacher? That seems as wrong as not criminally prosecuting the Dreher teacher.

    These two situations are not even in the same universe. Certainly they should not be compared. From The State’s article, it sounds as though the principal is having difficulty understanding that sometimes principles must stand in the face of “outrage”.

  11. Steven Davis II

    Depends on what she looks like.

    High school guys have been having sex with 22-23 year old teachers since the beginning of high school. I know a few who did and I don’t see any long-lasting side effects. But back in my day, you kept your mouth shut if you wanted it to continue, you didn’t post photos to FaceBook and Twitter everyone as you were putting your pants back on.

    1. Kathryn Fenner

      The age of consent, which varies with the age of the older party.

      There is an issue of any situation where one party is in a position of authority over the other, including police officers, bosses….

  12. Brad Warthen Post author

    Speaking of which… Remember that Riley Institute course I took last year in Diversity Leadership? One of the case studies we discussed was one in which a male high school student was having a sexual relationship with a female teacher. Basically, the scenario was that you were supposed to be another adult — not a parent or affiliated with the school — who found out about it, and the question was, what should you do? (Then, we discussed whether it was different if the genders were reversed — or if they were both of the same gender.)

    There was a very wide array of opinions as to what should happen.

    One man in the class who if I recall correctly was of the “don’t make a federal case of it” camp confided in us that he had had such a relationship with a female teacher when he was in school. He didn’t seem particularly traumatized by it. He seemed to think it was less of a deal than I did, and still do.

  13. Doug Ross

    Right. If something is a crime doesn’t there have to be a victim? If the young men don’t press charges, I say let her suffer the economic and social consequences. I believe the activity for one of the guys took place at his home, so he was probably not feeling very threatened by the relationship.

  14. Kathryn Fenner

    Part of issue is that same as what is wrong with workplace affairs:ossicle preferential treatment for the participant, to the unfair detriment of non participants….

    When I was in law school, a popular professor has a coterie of fit young women, all women, who ran with him and interned for him, and a few years later it came out that he would put the make on them shortly before graduation, when they would have to put out or forego the positive recommendations and great grades he would have given them. Wrong not just for them, but also for all the other students in a competitive environment…..

  15. Juan Caruso

    Where did each of the two teachers earn their teaching degrees? Their actions are smears on both institutions. Either the respective universities failed to apprise of very topical professional hazards, or they presented such actions as acceptable. Pathetic “education”. Hope they both sue their alma maters to salvage their reputations.

    1. JoanneH

      Sorry. This is ridiculous. I’m a teacher, but should I be held accountable for students who go on to commit crimes because I supposedly didn’t teach them not to?

      For seven years, I taught the Induction class in my county, the course to help guide first-year teachers through that very difficult initial year of working in a classroom as the adult-in-charge and not the student. One of the very first lessons I always went over was professionalism and how a teacher could be sued, jailed, or lose a certificate. But I had one man in there who crossed the line two years after he was in the class.

      Am I responsible? Is his college? Or is he? The schooling has nothing to do with it.

  16. Lynn

    Predators and predators regardless of gender. Adults who prey on children for their own sexual needs/gratification are SEXUAL PREDATORS. This behavior is NOT ok under any conditions or situation. Not once not ever.
    This is a tragic story and I do feel sorry for this teachers family and friends but this behavior has zero tolerance. I’ll listen to an explanation but it is not excusable.

  17. Juan Caruso

    “Juan advocating a lawsuit. Rich stuff.” – Katherine Fenner used to say that, Mark Stewart. And it is not the first time on Brad’s pages.

    As I have had reminded K. Fenner more than once, my quibble has never been with lawyers, it has always been with their manifest over-representation in Congress (and even on the Supreme Court).

  18. Karen McLeod

    Kathryn, the situation that you bring up is one of the possible senarios that this behavior can result in. Of course, when it goes the other way (young men being seduced/harrassed by older women the double standard kicks in, sometimes to the detriment of the man.

  19. Mark Stewart


    Maybe you could think of it this way, the people who make good legislators are also the type of people who are drawn to studying law. On top of that, it is important training for future legislators. Yes, legislators need additional insights into other ways of living to effectively represent a wide range of constituents. But first they need to know the law.

    It would help, of course, of more of them possessed better negotiation skills than they tend to exhibit.

    Sorry you thought of my comment as redundant. I try to bring new and different viewpoints to this conversation.

  20. Scout

    I think it is appropriate to have a separate law for teachers in this situation. It is the fact that the teacher is in a position of authority over the student that causes the problem. Several here say they have encountered people who say they’ve done this and seem to be “fine”. Perhaps they truly are but I suspect it’s not something that can be assessed from a simple observation. Could be they leave a trail of problems dealing with authority, problems with interpersonal relationships, and/or years of therapy sessions that are not readily apparent from a brief social encounter. It is equally wrong for anyone in a position of authority to do this, not just teachers, but I still think a separate law for teachers is appropriate. I can’t exactly articulate why right now – I’d have to take some time to figure it out, but I know that it is what I feel.

    1. Doug Ross

      What if the young men were not students of the teacher?

      I’m thinking back to high school when I was 16-17 years old and can’t recall any situation where
      I felt a teacher had either authorityu over me outside the classroom or exhibited a “nurturing”
      relationship. Maybe in elementary school but by high school? Don’t think so.

      A 17 year old young man knows what he’s doing. I wouldn’t be surprised if he encouraged the
      situation — it was going on at his home, right? Are we to believe the teacher entered the house
      against the wishes of the student?

      1. Scout

        If the young men were not students of the teacher, it would be different. Then the teacher would just be morally reprehensible in my opinion, but would not have additionally abused a position of authority. I don’t doubt that the young men encouraged it. I don’t think that changes the argument at all. 5 year olds would encourage unscrupulous adults to feed them candy for breakfast, lunch, and dinner too, and it, likewise, would be bad for them even though they don’t have the judgement to know it yet. Bodies mature at different rates than minds.

  21. Juan Caruso

    My sincere apologies for my mis-attribution to you, Kathryn Fenner. Here is what Karen McLeod said (August 6, 2012 at 1:19 pm):

    So, Juan, you’re in favor of litigation? You are so sweet to help the lawyers keep their jobs!

    Mark S. I understand why majorities keep electing lawyers way beyond their proportion to the U.S. workforce (less than 2%). Lawyers are hardly representative of those majority in key respects, however.

    Eventually a particular abuse of concentrated authority and conflict of interest within a single profession will come to enough light for even the dim witted to see. If not, perhaps such occasion will be simple enough for a journalist to explain to the masses.

  22. Kathryn Fenner

    Because lawyers are specially trained in the law, and thus better able to understand how to make good ones?

  23. tavis micklash

    Here is a questions that warrants a SERIOUS Answer.

    What if it is a 16 year old boy being perused by a 23 yea old MALE teacher?

    Is that more or less of a rape?

    I ask that because the majority of male rape cases are at the hands of other men. Its VERY rare to report as well.

    Its easy to think of these boys as something to have pride in. Instead I would like to cast a light on the silent many kids out there hurting and confused. Did they just have consensual sex with another man? Or were they raped by a cunning person that preys on overconfident kids?

    So between tossing chest bumps around to the high school football player nailing the college hottie think about the kid who just got taken advantage of by a coach or a employer.

    1. Scout

      Anytime an older person ‘rapes’ a child or adolescent, it is a very serious and heinous crime, no matter the respective sexes of either perpetrator or victim – all possible combinations are equally serious, if it is ‘rape.’ I don’t think that is what is being discussed here. As has been mentioned, it was most likely consensual, but the problem lies in the abuse of authority. If you are asking if there should be a difference in seriousness if a male teacher did this with a male student where it was consensual, I don’t think so. It would be the same situation as the case being discussed here. Quite serious and quite wrong, but no more so just because of he same-sex nature. In my opinion.

  24. Kathryn Fenner

    This is not a rape case. The victims were of age and consented. It is a statutory offense of battery, not rape.

    I don’t see how the sex of either party matters. What matters is that one was a teacher and one was a student.

    1. tavis micklash @columbiacents

      It absolutely matters in the real world. You think the numbers are low for women reporting date rapes? Try being a young boy getting taken advantage of by an older stronger guy.

      Saying that these events are connected. How many people laugh it off and say he’s a guy, can’t rape the willing! Guys can be raped and the perception that guys are invulnerable has to be erased.

      1. Kathryn Fenner

        It should not matter. Date rape is tough to report, but at least the victims are old enough to date. You describe child abuse….

  25. Doug Ross

    What authority does a teacher have over a 17 year old male student? What can she do, threaten to fail him if he doesn’t perform? The student is in the position of power here…he has nothing to lose. The teacher is in a position to be blackmailed. This is not a crime worthy of jail time.

  26. Silence

    The real issue is that we have adults in positions of responsibility who aren’t behaving like responsible adults. Teachers, the high school is NOT your personal dating service. The students aren’t your peers, they are your responsibility – your obligation. Students, the teachers aren’t your colleagues, peers or friends, they are your teachers – regardless of how hot they might look. You will respect their authority!

  27. bud

    Guys can be raped and the perception that guys are invulnerable has to be erased.

    Certainly. But how many get raped by women? I’d suggest the number is less than 1/100 of the number of women who are raped by men.

  28. Doug Ross

    Seriously, how many of the adult males on this blog can recall a time after age 16 when you felt a female teacher (or any teacher) had some authority over you outside the 60 minutes spent in the classroom? And what “authority” besides grades and sending you to the principal do high school teachers wield?

    These guys were willing participants in off campus activity. Are we to believe that they felt compelled to perform under threat of some retaliation? From an English teacher? “Drop ’em, Johnny, or you’ll be reading Chaucer for the next three months”.

    This is not a crime, it’s bad behavior punishable by termination and the end of her teaching career and likely her marriage. That’s a pretty harsh penalty for a mid-30’s woman. The economic impact will be devastating. Putting her in jail will serve no purpose – in fact it will have an even greater detrimental effect on her young children.

    1. Silence

      The state legislature (in its wisdom) decided to make a special law that applied to teacher/of age student sex. It’s against the law. Regardless of if you agree with it or not, the law wasn’t a secret. She made a decision to violate the law, now she’s going to get punished. If you don’t like the law, contact your representative – but that still doesn’t change the fact that the law was broken here.
      Again, reverse the situation – pretend it’s a 17 year old cheerleader and a 35 year old teacher. Still not appropriate – and could potentially have life altering consequences.
      What if the affair in question had resulted in a pregnancy or offspring? Should the students in question be saddled with child support for their entire adult life? What if she’d given the student a raging case of herpes? How effective do you think a teacher would be in the classroom if the entire class knew that he/she was sleeping with a student in the class?
      To quote Jim Croce, “Five short minutes of lovin’, done brought me twenty long years in jail.”

      1. Doug Ross


        You are introducing hypotheticals. Why would the age or sexes matter? Other than one party being a teacher and the other a student, what is illegal about the activity whether a pregnancy or STD is involved? The only aspect of this that should be illegal is if one person uses any method of coercion or threat to get the other party to comply. There are already laws to deal with that situation in the general case.

        Her effectiveness in the classroom will not be an issue ever again, will it? She’s done.

        Laws are ignored all the time (ref: Richland County). This one could be ignored as well until it is repealed. This is one of those phony laws that politicians use to demonstrate their “morality”. If it’s not a crime for any other profession, it shouldn’t be a crime for teachers. Age of consent is age of consent, not age of consent depending on the profession of the older person.

        1. Doug Ross

          Here’s where the idea of specific laws like these fall apart: if the students in question engaged in the activity the day before his 18th birthday (Happy Birthday!), the teacher goes to jail. Otherwise, no, right? One day makes the difference between jail time and no jail time. That’s silly.

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            It only sounds silly in a vacuum. Laws have to be specific. You don’t get to vote according to when the poll worker thinks you seem mature. The day before your 18th birthday you’re not eligible; the day after you are.

            Ditto with the drinking age of 21. A day makes all the difference.

            That’s how laws work. Never mind the fact that a given 50-year-old may never be mature enough to vote, or drink, and you might be able to find an unusually mature 17 year old who can handle both responsibly. We don’t get to go by subjective judgments.

            Oh, and by the way — a lot of the argument between Doug and others here on this subject is rooted, I believe, in his statement that “A 17 year old young man knows what he’s doing.”

            Not the ones I’ve known. Certainly not the one I was. I suppose there are outliers, but I wouldn’t make a rule based on them…

          2. Silence

            Doug, this is no different than the Air Force drill instructors who were sleeping with recruits down at Lackland AFB. They abused their position of authority to derive personal (sexual) benefit. In retrospect a high school teacher may not have much REAL influence on your life – but when you are in high school it sure seems like they do. Same thing with a drill instructor, they can make your life (temporarily) a living hell. We trust people in positions of responsibility to act appropriately. Often they do not, but due to the role that they serve, we can hold them to a higher standard.
            There’s no reason for teens to sleep with clergy, camp counselors, coaches, teachers, adult mentors, politicians, managers, etc. Period.

  29. Kathryn Fenner

    I know that I was brought up respect authority, which most definitely included teachers. By the time a kid is 16 or 17, maybe that respect has waned a bit, but for many of us, teachers are like rock stars. It’s amazing how easy it is for some slug-looking, skank-acting guy to seduce women who greatly exceed his physical attractiveness. This is a similar situation.

    1. Silence

      Thank you Kathryn for helping make that point. There will always be something about people in positions of authority that makes them desirable beyond their true attractiveness – charisma by position, I suppose. Teachers, coaches, clergy, elected officials, etc.

    2. Doug Ross


      I keep seeing this word “authority”. How does that apply to a teacher? Whatever authority they have is very limited. I never looked at teachers as authority figures, just as teachers. I treated them all with respect as I would have for any adult… no special treatment just because they were teachers. Did I admire some of them, sure. Were others useless, clueless, burned out, drunks, ineffective? Absolutely.

      Ask a high school teacher today if he/she feels like a rock star. With a wife who works in a high school and a daughter who has been teaching high school for the past year and a half, I can only say that their perception is different. Never mind the students, in general the parents don’t respect the teachers any more. They treat teachers like Burger King cashiers… they want it their way.

      1. Kathryn Fenner

        Well, I can understand it. I certainly imbue teachers with authority and respect to this day.
        It doesn’t matter if all teachers feel like rock stars. Some aren’t. This woman kind of was, from reports. What matters is how the students perceive it,

  30. bud

    Brad has a point about laws needing to be specific. But the other extreme is when you make laws that are arbitrary. Blue laws were the poster child for the overly arbitrary law. Another example is hate crime laws. Why is it worse to kill someone because they’re gay vs killing someone for money? This law regarding the teachers having sex with their students falls into the arbitrary category. Either it’s against the law for an adult to have sex with a 16 year old or it isn’t.

    1. Silence

      bud – agree about abitrary laws like blue laws and hate crime laws. I think this is a different situation though.

    2. Brad Warthen Post author

      It is COMPLETELY different.

      Bud’s talking about whether a certain law is advisable or not. I’m glad that he agrees with me on hate crime laws (we punish actions, not thoughts).

      But that’s different. If you decide to have a hate-crime law (which I wouldn’t), you have to get specific about what it covers. And if you’re going to have laws against teachers having sex with students, or against any adult having sex with someone under a certain age, then you have to be specific.

      The issue of WHETHER to have such laws is entirely different.

      1. Doug Ross

        No, if you are going to make a law about teacher and students having sex, it should be about teachers and students having sex. Adding the age component suggests that there is some criminality associated with the behavior only if the student is 16 or 17 which disappears at age 18 even when the student-teacher relationship exists. If it’s wrong at 17, it’s no less wrong at 18.

  31. Doug Ross

    Here’s a simple exercise:

    Start by recalling all the teachers and coaches you had in high school. You can do that, right? Because they were respected authority figures who had an impact on your life. Now, from all these stellar educators, put yourself back into the classroom and recall whether you and your friends ever made fun of said teacher behind his/her back. I know that didn’t happen because you were too awestruck, but just give it a shot to see if maybe you slipped one time. Now, ask yourself this question, “Which of these teachers would I comply with no matter what they asked me to do because they were authority figures?” Which laws would you break in order to avoid their punishment? Which laws DID you break despite the presence of these multiple authority figures on a daily basis? Aside from imparting knowledge on you, how many of them influenced you in any other way outside of school? One, two?

    Teachers are not authority figures.

    1. Silence

      Doug, I’ll go along with that teachers aren’t so awesome, and I made sport of more than a few teachers in my less than stellar academic career. Not all of us were miscreants though. That being said – and as we discuss this here, I think that this may be a key point – teachers (among other professionals) have a unique access to our children. They are placed in a position of special trust and are often alone, unsupervised with one or more children.

      1. Doug Ross

        How often are teachers alone and unsupervised with high school students? Let’s not forget, this activity did not occur at the school. She went to the student’s home. You want to put someone in jail for having sex with a student on school property, maybe I could go for that. But this is not a jail worthy offense.

  32. Brad Warthen Post author

    Doug, you’re missing the point.

    Teachers are agents of state authority. They administer state policy in the classroom every day. And the kids are required to be there (or in some school environment).

    The state is responsible for that teacher’s behavior toward those students, and therefore obliged to set limits on it. In a way that it is not obliged to set limits for, say, a scoutmaster — since the scouts are a private organization with voluntary membership.

    It really doesn’t matter how you or I felt about our teachers, or how some kid today does. That’s beside the point.

    1. Doug Ross

      They do set limits on the behavior. If you have sex with a student you are fired and cannot teach again. That’s a sufficient limit as opposed to arbitrary age limits making it a crime worthy of prison time.
      That’s my issue – is it a criminal act worth putting someone IN JAIL. That carries with it a significant cost to taxpayers when you do that. Removing the teacher’s certificate makes the situation unlikely to occur again. So society is protected without putting the woman in jail. She’ll suffer enough without wasting court time and prison resources.

  33. Kathryn Fenner

    But, Doug, the students are conflicted. It is flattering to be the chosen one, for example. I certainly never dissed my admired teachers. Heck, I even took Calculus at the behest of the best one!

  34. Juan Caruso

    “Because lawyers are , and thus better able to understand how to make good ones?”

    Not the question, KF. If lawyers are “specially trained in the law” why are so many SUPCO decisions 5-4? Judgement is still individually arbitrary.

    The real question is how are people comprising 100% of SUPCO, > 40& of the House and > 60% of the Senate representative of the rest of us? answer: They are not!

  35. Mark Stewart


    Whether you are willing to pay something toward her confinement or not, I would hope that you would acknowledge that this was an abuse of authority. It was. This isn’t about moralizing; this is the cycle of abuse speaking (that is just my guess – but i will be shocked if that does not turn out to be true). Child abuse is a never ending hell. We must break the cycle, we just must.

    1. Doug Ross

      What authority, Mark? What authority does an English teacher have? They teach and give out grades.

      This is so far from child abuse… how can it be child abuse if the ONLY illegal factor involved is the profession of the older person? These aren’t children. They are on the cusp of being considered adults… and they can engage in as much sexual activity as they’d like as long as the other person isn’t a teacher.

      This was bad behavior unworthy of jail time. Jail should be for people who have harmed others.


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