Cougars in the Classrooms

The Web has made it easy for sex-hungry teachers to hook up with their students; blame law enforcement for making it almost acceptable.

A decade after Mary Kay LeTourneau was busted for bedding her 13-year-old student, a new crop of "Clearasil Cougars" are making headlines for their extracurricular activities. Over several weeks last summer, three teachers were arrested for trysts with their underage charges: Adrienne Laflamme, 60, had a threesome with two students, ages 17 and 14; special-ed instructor Mandi Weeks, 27, admitted to molesting a 15-year-old special-needs student; and 34-year-old middle-school teacher Julie Pritchett was charged with having sex with eight members of the high-school baseball team, the youngest 15.

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Some blame the disturbing trend on technology, which allows for discreet chatter between horny teachers and vulnerable students. Beth Ann Chester, a 26-year-old gym teacher, swapped dozens of text messages with her 14-year-old lover--"Damn baby. You're sexy as hell!"--before her arrest in January. Sixth-grade science teacher Danielle Jones, 32, used MySpace to lure students to her house for sex. Scandals like these compelled two Mississippi school districts to ban "fraternizing via the Internet between employees and students." Missouri legislators are trying to prohibit teachers from sharing their Facebook pages with students.

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Still, law enforcement doesn't seem too troubled by the hot-for-student hookups--which often qualify as statutory rapes--so long as the crime involves an older woman and a postpubescent boy. How else to explain the lenient two-year prison sentence meted out to 35-year-old Colorado social studies teacher Nicole Barnhart after she was convicted of having sex with a 16-year-old student two years ago? Utah judge Mark Kouris said, of a 29-year-old sub caught fellating her 17-year-old student, "If this were a 29-year-old male and a 17-year-old female, I would be inclined to order some incarceration." But reverse sexism does no one any favors--certainly not women, and not the boy victims, who often struggle with depression and drugs in the aftermath, to say nothing of the inability to have healthy relationships later on.

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