Students can’t consent to relationships with their teachers but what if they wait four days after the school year ends and the teacher resigns?
JONESBORO, Ark. – Westside Schools Superintendent Scott Gauntt was upset about the case of a former teacher of his being accused of a predatory sexual relationship with a former student of his.
“This shouldn’t happen,” Gauntt said. “This shouldn’t happen in school.”
However, he was also upset about it being reported in a way he felt was inaccurate.
“This whole thing, whatever you’d call it – a relationship – took place when he was a Jonesboro teacher,” Gauntt said.
The two became familiar while the student and teacher both were at Westside. The teacher claims he resigned and took another job (literally days) before the two began having sex. He thought this meant it was okay. Ethically, it was not. But was it legal?
How and when it began
Brandon Turner, 25, was a teacher at Westside for several years by the 2017-2018 school year. A 16-year-old girl, like many others, was a student of his. She saw him twice a day since she had two classes with him. They became familiar, as is described in the probable cause affidavit released by JPD. It’s not outlined how familiar the student and teacher became during the school year at Westside but the indicators are that the predatory relationship had already evolved to a certain point by the end of the school year.
Turner resigned his job that year on May 24, 2018. Only four days later, he had sex with the 16-year-old student, he admitted to police. Westside can’t confirm the student was still enrolled during the time but her age indicates she would still have been a student of the school for at least one more year. According to JPD, the student was in the 10th grade.
On Wednesday, October 30, 2019, Turner told Sgt. Brandon King at JPD the relationship took place but he thought it was legal. He was arrested that day.
Obligations of being a mandated court reporter
Turner, as a teacher, was a mandated court reporter who is sworn and bound by law to report any signs of abuse children might experience. While he resigned his Westside job that year, he continued teaching and went to work at Jonesboro School District, Gaunt said, adding that he was still a mandated court reporter. Not only did he have a moral obligation to protect the interests of the child or report otherwise, but he appears to still have had a legal obligation to do so as well.
“If you are a teacher, this means that you have not only a moral obligation to protect the children in your care, but you also have a legal obligation to protect them. It’s a sad but true fact that you might be the only adult in that child’s life that cares enough about them to even notice, let alone report, abuse or neglect. This is a responsibility that is not to be taken lightly.” – EducationCorner.com article on Mandated Reporters
Mandated reporters are not just bound by law in their place of work. For example, if a reporter sees a child being abused at a the grocery store, he or she must report the suspected abuse. Some states require the report to be filed even if there is no proof out of caution for the child. A mandated court reporter can and will be criminally charged for failing to live up to this duty, too.
The only reason Turner knew the student was through his contact with her while he was a mandated court reporter in a position of authority over her. Ethically and morally, this was clearly wrong. Turner ignored ethics and morals and appeared to have focused on the legality of the matter.
That’s where it becomes complicated.
“But she said it is okay in Facebook comments”
“I’m not even the one who made the report, I got questioned even though I am a legal adult now,” wrote the former student, under her name, on JPD’s post about the case. Despite her public statement, we will not include her name in this report.
“My relationship with him is and has always been consensual and I am beyond heartbroken right now,” she continued.
She never legally consented because, although the age of consent in Arkansas is 16, that does not apply to a juvenile and a court mandated reporter. The law specifically states her consent is not a defense.
According to Arkansas law 5-14-125 (a)(4)(A) sexual assault in the second degree includes engaging in sexual contact with a minor (age irrelevant) while the actor is…
(ii) A mandated reporter under 12-18-402(b) and is in a position of trust or authority over the minor; or
(iii) The minor’s guardian, an employee in the minor’s school or school district, a temporary caretaker, or a person in a position of trust or authority over the minor.
There is a gray area here that prosecutors will have to confront, thanks to the vague wording of the law. Four days after the school year ended, would a school teacher be in a position of authority over a former student? No clear authority would exist. But would the teacher be in a position of trust?
Another part of the statute that could apply is (a)(6) – but there’s another big “if.” It defines a person guilty of second degree sexual assault as…
(6) Is a teacher in a public school in a grade kindergarten through twelve (K-12) and engages in sexual contact with another person who is:
(A)A student enrolled in the public school; and
(B)Less than twenty-one years of age.
The first line of the statute seems to set up the law to make any public school employee applicable, by saying “a public school.” But subsection A then states the student must be enrolled in “the” public school, possibly setting a requirement for the student to have been the same school at the same time.
There are a number of uncertainties both with the charges and the investigation that will become more clear in the coming weeks. PD can’t release the report detailing the full investigation yet as the case is still open. Sources tell NEA Report the investigation is still very much active, too. So, the public is still not informed as to how it all began or what else may come. The public only knows that it didn’t end when it should have – before it began.
The public also knows that the charge is punishable by up to six years in prison. Turner would lose his teaching license.
Who reported it?
“Is there a way to find who filed the complaint? I’m just curious who did this,” Gauntt asked this reporter during an interview.
Like the student who seemed baffled by the report being made against her will, the superintendent was also curious as to who referred the incident to the authorities. We don’t know yet because the file is being investigated but a court-mandated reporter would have been bound by law to report the incident. Also, an administrator would be violating the law if they discouraged the report from being made.
Gauntt knows this because in October, 2014, he was charged with failure to report child abuse before being found not guilty, Region 8 News reported. A Paragould teacher was arrested for sexual assault against her male students. Prosecutors alleged Gauntt as assistant superintendent, and his boss, Superintendent Debbie Smith, failed to report suspected maltreatment of two specific male students to the Arkansas State Police Child Abuse Hotline. Both were exonerated.
Because of the negative experience, Gauntt said he’s even more sensitive to suspected abuse.
“Because of that incident that happened in Paragould, I’m hypersensitive to teachers who have done that,” Gauntt said. “I’ve never covered up anything. That incident at Paragould, we were found not guilty because we didn’t do anything wrong. We had a teacher who had done some stuff that was unethical – but not illegal.”
Gauntt said he tries to do his diligence on teachers including with state mandated background checks and more.
“The other thing you can do is as a building principal and superintendent, you just try to do your best to be aware of what is going on in every classroom,” Gauntt said. “But as you know we can’t be in the classroom everyday.”
Turner is innocent until proven guilty. He is also still under investigation.