When I went to Hoquiam High School - yes, a looonggg time ago - classroom scandals didn't get much bigger than the day a kid in my science class had to leave the room with a boner. Looking at protoplasm through a microscope, you see what you want to see. I realize times have changed, of course. But I was still surprised to read today that a Hoquiam music teacher had sexual intercourse in his office with a member of the choir. Not not only did word leak out, and the cops move in, a sharply divided state Supreme Court has now halted the music teacher's bandwagon, invoking an old-school rule: When bonered, leave the room.
A person is guilty of sexual misconduct with a minor in the first degree when the person is a school employee who has, or knowingly causes another person under the age of eighteen to have, sexual intercourse with a registered student of the school who is at least sixteen years old and not married to the employee, if the employee is at least sixty months older than he student.
Hirschfelder moved to dismiss the charge on the basis he had sex not with a minor but a consenting adult, based on his reading of the law. He also claimed the law was unconstitutionally vague and violated his right to equal protection. The trial judge disagreed, but allowed an appeal to go forward prior to trial.
The Court of Appeals, however, sided with the choir teacher. The statute was ambiguous and criminalized sexual misconduct only between school employees and students ages 16 or 17.
Thus the case landed before justices of the Supreme Court. Most of them, presumably, went to high school, but have since moved on to adulthood, so they can likely see both sides. They weighed the arguments, researched the law, compared it to other rulings, and then, in a 5-4 decision, said intercourse, even in the choir office, is not music to their ears.
"In the end," Justice Debra L. Stephens writes today for the majority, "a common sense reading...must prevail. We hold that the...statute's plain language unambiguously defines minor as a registered student and thus includes students up to the age of 21."
The statute, since changed by the legislature to reflect that same common sense reading, was also unambiguous, the court felt. "That the legislature saw fit to criminalize sex between school employees and high school students -- even those who reach the age of majority while registered as students -- is a policy choice that recognizes the special position of trust and authority teachers hold over their students."
And that is that - except for the four justices who dissented. To them, the ruling "does not ultimately make sense," writes Charles Johnson. The legislature expressly provides, he notes in the separate opinion, "that a person charged with sexual misconduct with a minor may defend that charge by establishing that the 'minor' was an adult, i.e., at least 18 years old. The defendant has done so in this case where the 'victim' was 18 years old at the time of the incident."
The majority sent the case back to Grays Harbor Superior Court for trial. But the dissenters, saying "We should not use the statute to criminalize conduct between two
consenting adults," remanded the case to the trial court for dismissal. It will now be up to the trial judge to decide the next move.
I would like to say, in my school's defense, I had a solid educational experience. And now years later, the home of the Grizzlies is still teaching me lessons - starting with another definition for "choir practice."