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Aug 102016
 

Last month, a school teacher in Iowa was arrested and charged with the crime of Sexual Exploitation by a School Employee. MaryBeth Haglin is accused of having sex with a student during the previous school year, 2015-2016.

A criminal complaint was filed on July 20, 2016, and the teacher was arrested a few days later. After an initial appearance, she was released on her own recognizance. She faces a 2 year prison term and 10 years having to register as a sex offender, as well as court fines and costs.

A Look at Iowa’s School Employee Sexual Exploitation Law

Iowa’s statute is fairly uncommon, Section 709.15 of Iowa’s criminal code applies to school employees, counselors and therapists. While many states have passed laws criminalizing sexual contact between a school employee and a student, most states have not extended such laws to medical or mental health professionals like therapists. Neither Pennsylvania nor New Jersey has extended criminal liability to health care providers for sexual abuse of a patient or client. Iowa is certainly in the minority in this respect. Section 709.15 applies to doctors, psychologists, nurses, counselors, social workers, and any other person who provides mental health services, whether they are licensed or not. Get legal info about sex abuse by a medical or mental health professional.

Teachers & Sex Abuse of Students – Are School Officials to Blame?

The problem of student sex abuse by teachers is nothing new. Over the last few years, there have been dozens if not hundreds of criminal cases and civil lawsuits involving teachers, coaches and principals. However, one of the unique aspects about this particular case is that the teacher is claiming that school officials knew of the “relationship” and turned a blind eye.

In an interview with a local news station, the teacher claimed that school officials did nothing because “they wanted to protect their school.” She further claimed that officials caught wind of what was happening as early as February of this year but took no action such as firing her or otherwise banning her from school grounds.

If this teacher’s claims are correct, the school will be facing an inquiry into why it failed to take action. While it certainly sounds unusual, this type of inaction is actually very common, especially when it comes to sex abuse cases involving older students, like high school students. Here’s why. High school students are notorious for gossiping. When a teacher engages in sexual contact with a high school student, the chances are really high that other students have noticed and gossiped about the contact. Eventually, a school employee finds out or overhears the gossip. What that school employee does in response is the key.

In some instances, the employee files a report with school officials. At that point, the school often follows state law and reports the contact to law enforcement or otherwise conducts an internal investigation. This sequence of events is the usual protocol. However, in our law practice handling school sex abuse cases, we see time and time again, that school employees fail to take appropriate action, whether it’s keeping quiet or simply doing nothing. This is the type of conduct that creates liability.

It will be interesting to see what happens in this recent Iowa case. Stay tuned.

Related: School District Liability for Sex Abuse in Pennsylvania Law Changes in 2016

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