June 21 2009

Georgia Supreme Court Says Teachers Can Date Students

ga teacherThere are times where the mind just can’t comprehend some of the news it comes across… this is one of those times.

This past Monday the Georgia Supreme Court ruled in a 5-to-2 decision that it was legal for teachers to have sexual contact with a student so long as they were over the state’s age of consent, which is 16-years-old.  According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the case came before the court on the appeal of a conviction of Melissa Lee Chase after she was not allowed to present a defense where she would have said the student she had sex with, who was over 16-years-old, was consensual to the situation.

Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears wrote:

Generally speaking, it is not a crime in Georgia to have physical sexual contact with a willing participant who is 16 years of age or older.

Between August and November 2006, Ms. Chase developed a relationship with a female student where she would have her over to her house for cookouts and to occasionally spend the night.  The relationship turned romantic and then eventually sexual.

Ms. Chase was arrested after the girl’s mother found romantic notes between the two.

During the trial, the girl testified that she was was the one who had pushed for the relationship because she had feelings for the teacher.  The prosecution objected to the testimony because they said consent was not relevant, and this was upheld by the judge.  Ms. Chase was found guilty and sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Chief Justice Sears wrote:

But the General Assembly did not specifically bar a consent defense when it enacted the state law making it a crime for a teacher to have sex with a student enrolled in school.

If it did bar such a defense, then a 30-year-old law school professor who engaged in fully consensual sex with a 50-year-old law student embarking on a second career would be guilty of a felony and face a minimum 10-year prison term.  That would be “truly absurd and unjust.

Richmond County District Attorney Ashley Wright said that she will be talking to the girl in the case to see what role Ms. Chase’s as an authority figure may have coerced the girl in any way.

It is well known how I feel about teachers having sex with their students, but if the law wasn’t written properly, it wasn’t written properly.  However, that being said, the law should now be rewritten and no matter what age or consent given, a teacher having sex with a student should be illegal.  While Chief Justice Sears makes a valid point about adult students, you would be hard pressed to find a college or university that doesn’t have a policy in place forbidding teachers from having relationships with their students.  I would even be okay with the law stipulating grade school, and then colleges, law schools, medical schools etc could set their own policies, but in grade school it should be absolutely forbidden.

Even if a student is of the age of consent, the situation between a grade school teacher and student is different than in any other educational setting.  You are taught from a very young age that teachers are your custodians from the time you get to school until the time you leave.  They have a very different relationship with their students than say a college biology teacher has with their students.  These people are, for all intents and purposes, like surrogate parents during your time there.

In short, fine, this law was flawed, this particular teacher may get out for now, but it still doesn’t make what she did proper or correct.  The state of Georgia needs to revisit the law, and every other state best look at their own to make sure they couldn’t have a similar problem.  Age of consent or no, just say no to grade school teacher student sex.

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