Dressed in a county-issued jumpsuit, handcuffed and pregnant with twins, she couldn’t stop crying as the judge denied her bond. My feelings ran the gamut from disgust to indignation. The disgust is what initially lingered as I thought about why Rene Frank, 27, a former Clayton County high school substitute teacher, admittedly had sexual relations with a student, allegedly the father of the unborn twins, as well as possibly another male student at Drew High School.
“What was she thinking?” I asked myself, but that question was quickly overshadowed by indignation as I thought about the same teacher-student impropriety occurring with mainly male teachers from different backgrounds. The scenarios are basically the same, but the defendants’ legal treatment and outcomes have been very different.
The legal age of consent to have sex is 16 in Georgia. In Frank’s case, the male student was 17 years old. The law Frank is accused of violating (O.C.G.A. § 16-6-5.1) says a person in custody or under supervision cannot consent to sexual contact. However, this did not apply to teachers before the law was changed last year after a controversial verdict in favor of a married Cobb County teacher who apparently courted and then had sex with a 17-year-old student. In his case, Superior Court Judge Robert Flournoy dismissed charges against former Marietta High School English and journalism teacher Christopher King after the student testified that their sexual relationship was consensual. Judge Flournoy said, “It’s gross. It’s awful, but it ain’t illegal,” basing his verdict on a Georgia Supreme Court ruling that a teacher could use a student’s consent as a defense to sexual-assault charges. After that case in December 2009, the state legislature changed the law to make it a crime for teachers to have intimate relationships with students, whether it’s consensual or not.
Steven Parkman, a Cobb County orchestra teacher accused of sexual assault and sodomy of his 17-year-old student, tried to use the consensual relationship defense, but ended up pleading guilty to cruelty to children and sexual battery in October 2010. He was sentenced to two years in prison. Prior to Parkman’s sentencing, however, he was out of jail on a $35,000 bond. King’s bond was set at $25,000.
One could say Frank is being denied bond because she is pregnant, probably indigent or simply being used as a poster child for violators of the now-amended state law. I believe the reason is all of the above, including, perhaps, her gender. Meanwhile, several other teachers in similar cases around the state have been cleared (Mike Lydiate), never prosecuted (Keenon Hall) or served very little time (James Cypert), and they all got bonds. You be the judge. –annette johnson
Annette Johnson is the owner of Allwrite Advertising and Publishing (www.e-allwrite.com) and the author of “What’s Your Motivation?: Identifying and Understanding What Drives You” (www.whatmotivation.com).