Surely, there is no one in the area who is unaware that sex between a teacher and a minor student is inappropriate.
Still, it happens. Most of the time in recent months it's happened somewhere else.
The inter-generational illegality hit a little close to home this past week when 28-year-old Melissa Chase, a Harlem High School softball coach, was arrested at the school and charged with sexual assault against a female student.
Chase resigned her teaching and coaching post, and was jailed pending a bond hearing. The penalty for the offense is staggering, thanks to recent toughening of sex-offender laws by the Georgia Legislature: Just a few months ago, the offense carried a penalty of 1-3 years in prison; under the new law, conviction carries a minimum sentence of 10 years, and a maximum of 30.
Too much of the conversation on this case has focused on needless gossip about homosexuals in coaching positions. Too little of it revolves around the continued need for students to learn just how serious the law has become.
Juvenile Court Judge Doug Flanagan will help bridge the gap. Taking a page from the recent "Teenage 101" series by Chief Magistrate Judge Wade Padgett, Flanagan this past week received approval from the Columbia County Board of Education to hold a series of seminars in the schools.
Called "Choices and Consequences," Flanagan's program will be conducted in every Columbia County middle school to make sure each teenager understands what can happen when they break the law - or when someone else does.
The timely teachings also pick up where Padgett's program left off in one important aspect: Teenage 101 is an after-hours, voluntary program in which the only teens in attendance were either there on their own or at the urging of their parents. Flanagan's seminars, conducted during school hours, will target 100 percent of the middle-school population.
It's a safe assumption that the parents who take the time to get their children to a seminar such as Padgett's are less likely to later need to drive their children to a court appearance. By getting an opportunity to reach all the children, especially those of apathetic parents, Flanagan can fill the vacuum.
There's little education that will deter a sexual predator of any kind from a minor. But perhaps if those minors are themselves armed with better information, they at least will prove to be more difficult targets.
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