BURNSVILLE, Minn. - A county prosecutor is calling for a change in Minnesota law - to make it illegal for teachers to have sexual contact with high school students, regardless of their age.
Currently, it’s not a crime in Minnesota for a teacher to have sexual relations with a student who is at least 18 years old.
And recent cases reviewed in a KARE 11 investigation, raise questions about how Minnesota holds teachers accountable if they do have sex with their students.
In some cases, KARE 11 learned state education officials won’t even investigate.
“It just eats at you, because you put this trust in these people to protect them,” said the mother of one student.
Two teachers, different results
At Burnsville High School, music teacher Erik Akervik is now suspended and awaiting trial on criminal charges of having sex with a 16-year-old student.
Just two months before authorities charged Akervik, another teacher in the same school resigned after allegations he had sex with a high school senior. It was Ben Stapp, a social studies teacher and head tennis coach.
But Stapp was not charged.
Why? Because the student involved was 18-years-old at the time.
“Once a student turns 18, our law is silent. And I think that law should be changed,” said Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom.
Because of that loophole, Backstrom says that even if there was proof that Stapp had sex with the student, under current law he didn't commit a crime.
Criminal charges could not be filed, he said, even though police records show the teenager told detectives that during lunch hour her senior year, Stapp locked the door to his windowless classroom and the two of them had consensual sex.
KARE 11 reporter Lou Raguse asked, “So even if the sexual contact happens in a classroom, it's still completely legal if the student is 18?”
“It's not against the law,” Backstrom replied. “There's not a crime in our state.”
KARE 11 contacted Ben Stapp, but he declined comment.
Cases not Investigated
KARE also discovered that even when the Minnesota Department of Education receives reports of teachers having sex with students, they don’t investigate either, unless the sexual relationship began before the student turned 18.
That’s what a Department of Education Investigator told Burnsville police, according to official records. And the mother of a student in Mankato says she got the same answer when she contacted the education officials about a suspected student-teacher affair.
“I haven't been sleeping. I think about it all the time. You feel powerless, because, as a mom you want to protect your kid but there's just no way of protecting them,” she told KARE 11.
The woman suspected her 18-year-old son was having sex with a female teacher, so she reported it to police. But a detective wrote in his official report, “Due to the student's age at the time... this would not be criminal and ends my investigation."
“I was shocked,” the student’s mother said. “I called the Minnesota Department of Education, and they informed me there was no law broken and there would be no investigation.”
When questioned by local school officials, the Mankato student denied the affair. So the teacher kept her license and is still teaching. She declined comment when contacted by KARE 11.
In the Burnsville case, Ben Stapp eventually surrendered his license after a separate state government body, the Minnesota Board of Teaching, learned about the allegations. The board threatened to start proceedings to revoke Stapp’s teaching license for “immoral character” or for violating the teacher’s Code of Ethics for “using professional relationships with students for private advantage.”
KARE 11 asked the state how many allegations there have been in which teachers have been accused of having sexual contact with high school students who already had turned 18. We were told neither the Board of Teaching nor the Department of Education tracks the number of cases involving 18-year-old students.
So, no one seems to know how many other teachers have escaped discipline and potential criminal charges.
”Quite frankly, it should be a crime,” said County Attorney Backstrom. He pushed to change the law after a similar case nearly a decade ago.
In light of the new cases, he says he will once again encourage lawmakers to make teacher-student sexual relationships illegal, regardless of the student’s age.
“I'll raise this issue again with legislators here in Dakota County and hopefully get the bill introduced again next session, Backstrom said. “I think it's worth another try.”
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