Wherever she is now, Melissa Chase certainly has to count herself lucky.
The former Harlem High School PE teacher was facing a 10-year prison term for her sexual relationship with a 16-year-old student when Chase’s conviction was thrown out on appeal. The state Supreme Court in 2009 agreed that the flawed law allowed consent as a defense in such cases.
Because the student was old enough to be a willing participant, Chase was free to go.
Lawmakers wisely stepped in to fix the law, removing consent as a defense. That means it is illegal for teachers, in similarity to prison guards and psychiatrists, to have sex with people in their care – even if the student, or inmate, or patient goes along.
That’s the law now looming over Mitchell Sivas, a decorated U.S. Army veteran who recently resigned as senior JROTC instructor – sadly, again, at Harlem High School. There still is conflicting information about whether Sivas, 57, had sex with the 17-year-old senior for whom he admitted having “strong feelings,” and who had spent lots of time at his Thomson home. Both denied it at first, but the student since has said otherwise; investigators here and in McDuffie County are sorting it out.
But just as the Chase case exposed a flaw in the law, so does this one. It seems that under the revamped law, sex between teacher and student is illegal only if they are both in the same school. That means if the student instead had attended, say, Grovetown High, she would have been fair game for the man 40 years her senior.
The law needs to be fixed, again, even as this creepy case is sorted out.