A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Monday, January 19, 2009

Incredible lack of judgment, part II

"SEATTLE — Washington state law does not bar teachers from having consensual sex with 18-year-old students, an appeals court ruled Tuesday in dismissing a case against a former high school choir teacher.

The teacher, Matthew Hirschfelder, was charged with first-degree sexual misconduct with a minor for allegedly having sex with a Hoquiam High School senior in 2006. He challenged a judge's refusal to dismiss his case, arguing the student wasn't a minor because she was 18.

Hirschfelder, who was 33 at the time, also denies any sexual relationship occurred.

A three-judge panel of the Washington Court of Appeals unanimously agreed that the case should be dismissed. While the law was written vaguely, a review of legislative history shows that lawmakers only intended to criminalize contact between teachers and 16- or 17-year-old students — not those over 18, the court said.

"The name of the statute is 'sexual misconduct with a minor,'" said Hirschfelder's attorney, Rob Hill, stressing that the state recognizes that an 18-year-old is no longer a minor.

The state's code of professional conduct for teachers still prohibits any sexual advance toward or contact with pupils, whatever their age, and teachers can be fired for it. Sexual contact with students younger than 16 is considered child rape or molestation; the age of consent in Washington is 16.

Hirschfelder has not been able to work as a teacher since late 2006, when he was placed on administrative leave pending an investigation by the school board. He was arrested and charged in spring 2007, after a former choir student told police she had a monthslong affair with him that began shortly before she graduated.

His case did not go to trial because it was stayed pending the appeals court ruling, Hill said. He has been tuning pianos to make ends meet.

Grays Harbor County Prosecutor Stew Menefee did not immediately return a call from The Associated Press, but he told The Daily World newspaper of Aberdeen that he would consider appealing to the state Supreme Court.

Some state legislators are set on changing the law. On Monday, six state representatives introduced legislation that would make it a crime punishable by a mandatory minimum of five years in prison for a teacher to have sex with a student up to age 21, as long as the teacher is five years older than the student and at the same school.

Rep. Larry Haler, R-Richland, the main sponsor of the bill, said he offered it at the request of the Richland School District, after a judge dropped a sexual misconduct charge against a Richland High School teacher because the teacher's alleged victim was 18.

"This is a real concern of mine, and with the court decision today, that just strengthens this bill," Haler said. "We need to protect our students as long as they're in our public schools, irrespective of age."

I understand the reason why this law doesn't apply. I do. But it needs to be clear that teachers should not EVER be allowed to "date" students, even if they're twenty-one (and we've got two of those around this year, and they better stay the hell away from my daughter, much less me). But I am confused by the provision in the proposed replacement law about the teacher being five years older than the student. So are they saying it would be okay if the teacher were, say 22 and the student were 18? Why would that be okay?

Of course, I didn't date high school boys when I WAS in high school, so perhaps my knee-jerk antipathy started then. But-- really. Yuck.

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At 1/19/09, 7:58 AM, Blogger cupcake said...

Oh, hell to the no. I've got three kids headed to high school, and if one of my colleagues even looks at them in any kind of wonder other than how brilliant they are, I will throw up on his or her shoes.

We've got a four-year rule here, but its intention was more for 20-year-olds not getting arrested for having sex with willing and cooperative 16-year-olds. And believe me, the kids know it. They actively inquire about age gaps.

I didn't go to prom when I was a high school student, but that doesn't mean that I'm going to solicit for dates from 18-year-old seniors.

You just can't fix stupid, can you.

At 1/19/09, 8:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It looks like there are two separate rules:

1. a law against sexual relations between minors and adults (applies to teachers, too) and

2. a code of professional conduct that applies to anything between a teacher and a student.

#2 seems to do the job fine, no matter the age of the teacher, the age of the student. The penalty is they can be fired. (I'm assuming they lose the right to teach in the state as well, but I do not know)

#1 is not about teachers. An adult having sex with a kid under 16 is considered molestation or child rape, and an adult having sex with a 16 or 17 yo is considered sexual misconduct.

This guy denies having sex with the girl, period. Not only that, the law doesn't even apply because she was 18.

He does not seem to be saying that he thinks it was ok - he denies it happening. But he's fighting on every front, including this stuff about the statute not applying.

I am unhappy about special laws being made about teachers.

At 1/19/09, 9:42 AM, Blogger Mrs. Bluebird said...

Ick. When I was in High School (1970's if you all must know), we had a student who was a little friendly with one of our teachers. It caused a lot of gossip then, but even more when we all showed up at the ten year reunion...she was there (he wasn't) but by then they were married. Still are, apparently, but it still creeps me out big time.

At 1/19/09, 11:23 AM, Blogger Goldie said...

I'm conflicted on this one. Personally I've always, always preferred men my own age. But a lot of my school/college friends ended up with older guys. One actually married her college prof. I'd say good for them. So the age difference, IMO is a non-issue as long as both sides are past the age of consent. I do understand though, how a student/teacher relationship can be screwed up to no end by throwing romance into it. Even so, I know a sad story where a college student fell in love with a TA and they both agreed nothing could happen because of the whole student-TA relationship. They waited, she married another, he moved away.. long story short, took them 35-40 years to get together. Makes me sad to think about all the years they missed. I have no advice on this really.


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