Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Bountiful Junior High School In Damage Control Mode After Disclosure Of Teacher Sex Scandal, But Text Messaging Of Students By Teachers Not Restricted

Update July 21: Linda Nef sentenced to three years to life, details HERE.

On Monday March 9th, 2009, Bountiful Junior High School principal Brent Stephens spent much of his day pacifying teachers and parents who were stunned, distressed, and even outraged at the disclosure that two teachers, Valynne Powers and Linda J. Nef, had pursued a sexual relationship with an unidentified 14-year-old male student. Full stories published by the Salt Lake Tribune, the Davis County Clipper, and KSL Channel 5. A newer story from the Deseret News offers considerably more information.

In an e-mail, Stephens invited teachers and parents to share concerns, noting that no question or concern would be considered too trivial. In addition, counselors were made available to meet with students who had similar concerns. Emotions at the school Monday ranged from sadness to anger as teachers grappled with feelings of betrayal and sympathy for their colleagues, both of whom have sterling teaching records and no criminal histories.

Yet school officials do not yet plan to revisit professional guidelines governing how and when teachers and students can text-message each other directly, even though text-messaging preceded the development of the physical relationship between the student and the teachers. Furthermore, no other school district in Utah is contemplated barring teachers from texting or e-mailing students, though the practice has played a role in other alleged and actual cases of sexual misconduct. Davis School District spokesman Christopher Williams explains, "There are times when text-messaging a student might be appropriate. It's really a matter of common sense. Maybe a teacher hasn't been able to reach a student at home and that student has been absent for a few days". [Ed. Note: This is bogus. If this is really necessary, the teacher should be text-messaging or communicating with the PARENTS.]

Stephens has been principal at Bountiful Junior High for less than a year. He couldn't speak as to whether or not there were warning signs of any inappropriate relationships. He also declined to say whether the alleged victim was still attending school, citing privacy laws.

Both Valynne Bowers and Linda Nef have now been released on bail. Both have been charged with rape and forcible sodomy, which are first-degree felonies. Bowers' next court appearance is scheduled for March 16th, while Nef appears in court on March 27th. Both teachers will be receiving psychological evaluations. Nef is likely to get more lenient treatment because she voluntarily fessed up. Neither have spoken to the media so far. Both women have teenage children, although school officials won't say whether any of them attend Bountiful Junior High. Bowers is divorced and Nef is currently married (at the moment, anyway). Both have clean records free of any complaints or sanctions. Pre-employment background checks on both came up clean. As a matter of fact, both teachers were regarded as top notch and known for going the extra mile for their students.

And that's the frustration. Both these teachers are clearly achievers; if more teachers displayed that attitude towards the job, we wouldn't need No Child Left Behind. However, sex between an adult and a 14-year-old is unacceptable to begin with; when the adult is an authority figure, it is tyrannical and despicable. So, notwithstanding their previous "sterling" track record, incarceration must be part of the punishment, otherwise it will make a mockery of our laws and we will have to apologize to every other sex offender that we've punished.

There is also no reason for teachers to be directly text-messaging students outside of normal school hours. Teachers need to be communicating directly with the parents if that sort of communication is necessary outside of school hours. The fact that text-messaging has led to other instances of abuse justifies a change in our standards.

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