Many people likely remember the name Mary Kay Letourneau, if not the reason her name is memorable. She is the former Seattle elementary school teacher who became involved in a sexual relationship with a 13-year-old student.
Some would cast it as a story of star-crossed lovers. Letourneau’s husband divorced her, and she was fired from her job, charged with statutory rape, and sentenced to seven years in prison.
Eighty days into her sentence, she was released with an agreement to enter a treatment program. Instead, she was found in a car with the juvenile, Vili Fualaau, along with a cache of new clothes, passports and thousands of dollars in cash.
She went back to jail, giving birth to the second of two children fathered by Fualaau. Upon her release, she and Fualaau, then an adult, married.
None of this mitigates the fact that Letourneau was an adult in a position of authority, and Fualaau was a child in her charge.
In the years since the Letourneau case inappropriate teacher-student relationships seem to make less of a ripple. That’s unfortunate. Even with a 10-year-old law in Alabama that specifically criminalizes such behavior — regardless of consent — several hundred educators, including a high school principal in Dothan, have been charged with inappropriate contact with students in recent years.
This week, a 23-year-old former teacher in Madison County was handed a 10-year prison sentence, suspended to time served and three years’ probation, after pleading guilty to sex charges involving two students.
Rampant hormone arguments aside, school employees should know better than to cross the line of appropriate interaction with the students in their purview. Lawmakers proved they take a dim view of such behavior with the passage of the 2010 law. Prosecutors should hold up their end to deter future cases in a way that would remind potentially wayward educators that their students are off-limits.