The Montgomery County school board feels “uncomfortable” with part of a Senate bill to regulate which adults could be punished for sexual conduct with a student, the board president wrote in a letter.
In a Feb. 21 letter to state Sen. Jamie B. Raskin, board President Philip Kauffman said the board is concerned that the bill requires an adult to be at least seven years older than a student for sexual conduct between them to warrant criminal punishment for the adult.
Kauffman also sent a letter dated Feb. 21 to Del. Luke Clippinger (D-Dist. 26) of Baltimore — the House sponsor of the bill — expressing the same concern about the age gap.
The letters comes about 10 days after the school board voted Feb. 11 to support Raskin’s bill and a different bill in the House — sponsored by Dels. Luiz R.S. Simmons and Sam Arora — that addresses the same issue, but does not include an age gap.
Maryland law criminalizes sexual contact between certain people in a position of authority and a minor in their care.
The two groups of lawmakers behind the bills, however, say there is a huge loophole in the law regarding which adults can and should face criminal penalties for such conduct.
Lawmakers have said a 2012 Montgomery County case illustrates why the law should be changed. A 47-year-old teacher and coach who was accused of having sex with a 16-year-old former student couldn’t be prosecuted because he was a part-time employee.
The House bill would apply to adults who work with children in either a school system or a county recreation program. The bill Raskin sponsored adds volunteers at schools, employees and volunteers at private recreation facilities.
The law currently defines individuals in positions of authority to include principals, vice principals, teachers and school counselors.
However, the law applies only to individuals who are full-time, permanent employees. It does not apply to part-time employees and coaches, substitute teachers or volunteers.
In the Feb. 21 letter, Kauffman said school board members support the Senate bill’s inclusion of part-time staff and volunteers, but would like to see the law include penalties for adults regardless of the age difference.
“While we are certainly able to discipline or take other appropriate personnel action against staff and volunteers who engage in inappropriate behavior with a student, we also recognize the benefit to establishing appropriate criminal penalties for inappropriate sexual behavior,” Kauffman said in the letter.
In Maryland, students are old enough to consent at age 16.
Kauffman also noted another school board concern — brought up during its Feb. 11 meeting — that the Senate bill also should include board of education employees on the list of which adults can be punished.
Raskin previously told The Gazette he favors having the law apply to any people in authority, regardless of how close in age they might be to the student.
However, some lawmakers think prosecuting a 20-year-old coach in a relationship with a 17-year-old student, for example, is too harsh, Raskin said.
“A 20-year-old assistant track coach in a relationship with a 17-year-old student could still be grounds for firing or making sure that person never works in a school again,” Raskin said this month. “The question is when we should send that person to jail.”