Lawmakers look to close loophole on teacher-student relationships

6:41 PM, Mar 12, 2008   |    comments
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Dakota County Attorney Jim Backstrom believes it ought to be a felony for an authority figure such as teacher or coach to have a sexual relationship with a high school student. And normally it is a crime, with one notable exception. If the student in question is 18 that teacher isn't breaking any Minnesota law, much to Backstrom's chagrin. "Some of these young women may even think they're in love with somebody," Backstrom told KARE 11, "But the fact of the matter is when you're that young you're particularly vulnerable to manipulation." What drove the point home for the veteran prosecutor was a case last year involving a female student at Hastings High School and a coach. "He sent her hundreds of text messages over the course of the entire last school year at Hastings," Backstrom said, "Literally 300 to 400 messages going back and forth between these two. Backstrom alleges that two eventually became involved sexually but not until after the girl's birthday. "We found out that this young woman had turned 18 before the actual sexual conduct had occurred," Backstrom remarked, "And that prohibited me from filing a felony charge in reference to this case." The 29-year-old teacher, Charles Ames Brookins, faces a gross misdemeanor charge of providing alcohol to a minor. His next court appearance on that charge, which is being handled by the Hastings City Attorney Dan Fluegel, is March 21st. But Brookins, who coached girls baskeball and boys baseball at Hastings High School until the episode came to light, couldn't be tried for the more serious crime of felony criminal sexual conduct. "It's not a crime to have sex with an 18-year-old high school student even if you're their coach or teacher," Backstrom said. "That needs to be changed. It's wrong. It shouldn't happen." Brookins is innocent of all charges, unless found guilty by the courts. And yet Backstrom is focusing on the statewide implications of the age loophole. He believes it leaves older high school students in jeopardy of being lured into damaging and inappropriate relationships. Backstrom and fellow county attorneys have given their support to a bill that would make it a crime for teachers or coaches to have a sexually intimate relationship with a student regardless of that student's age. The author of the legislation, Representative Joe Atkins of Inver Grove Heights, said the bill received a thumbs-up in the judiciary committee and is now headed to the K-12 education committee at the House. "That's why we need a law to put a stop to this," Backstrom argued, "To make if very clear it's off limits no matter what a student's age is. If they're in high school you can't be having sexual contact with them under any circumstances." The students KARE 11 spoke to outside a coffee shop near Hastings High School agreed with Backstrom. "That's not what you're there for," Tricia Scott of Park High in Cottage Grove said, "You're there to teach, not to get into intimate relationships with underage students." Her friend Melissa Luebke hoped students would wise up too. "Because it's your teacher, not someone you should get intimate with," Luebke told KARE 11. "It doesn't only ruin the teacher's life. It can ruin the reputation of the student also around the city and in the school."

By John Croman, KARE 11 News

(Copyright 2008 by KARE. All Rights Reserved.)

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