Bill targets student-teacher dating

March 27, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
A California lawmaker has drafted a bill that would make it a felony for teachers to have romantic relationships with students in response to a 41-year-old Modesto teacher who left his wife and three kids to move in with an 18-year-old student.

"As a mom of three school-aged children, my initial reaction was one of outrage, of horror. We think that when we send our kids to school, those are safe and secure, positive learning environments," said Republican Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen of Modesto.

Olsen introduced the bill, which would make inappropriate student-teacher contact a felony in California. This would include excessive communication like texting, even if the student is 18.

The bill comes in the wake of a recent controversy involving Modesto High School teacher, James Hooker, and his 18-year-old student, Jordan Powers. Hooker resigned last month after he moved in with Powers. Both have defended their relationship, saying it did not turn sexual until Powers was of age.

Teachers convicted under Olsen's bill would lose their pensions, but they would get their contributions refunded. Power's mother, Tammi, lent her support to the bill.

"I don't want another child, another family, to be in this position. If this helps one child, one family, one, it's worth it to me," she said.

While there may be moral and ethical boundaries crossed, legal experts say there might be a problem with including 18 year olds in the law.

"It is the age when you are an adult. In California, a lot decisions can be made by kids under 18, the decision to consent to medical care, to birth control," said Professor John Myers of the McGeorge School of Law at the University of the Pacific.

Taking a public employee's pension may not stand up to legal muster, either. But Olsen says several states have similar laws in effect, even for 18 year olds, something allowed if the student is still in high school.

Tammi Powers wants the same law for California.

"The reality is, we do have to worry about it," she said.

Investigators are still looking into whether anything illegal took place between Hooker and Powers when Powers was a minor. If the proposal is approved, and no illegal activity concerning Hooker is uncovered, he will likely not be charged with a felony and would still get his pension if eligible.


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