Keeping sex offenders away from schools

Nevada prosecutors adequately express the outrage of society over teachers who are accused and convicted of having sex with students, but the main benefit to those cases will come only if no offender ever teaches in a school again.

That's why we support the move by the Nevada Attorney General's Office to require registration as sex offenders of teachers convicted in such cases.

On the other hand, we believe judges should still have the option of sentencing offenders to probation -- which remains an effective tool in some cases toward rehabilitation and reconciliation. We're generally against ever tying judges' hands with mandatory sentences, because we don't believe in one-size-fits-all justice.

Only since 1998 has Nevada specifically made it illegal for a teacher to have sex with a student, even if the student is beyond the age of consent. The law recognizes the power authority figures have over young people.

But there is a wide difference between a teacher who takes advantage of a situation to have sex with a student, and a teacher who is a sexual predator using the school setting to search for prey.

Both are criminals, and both must be considered sexual offenders for purposes of registration. Neither should ever be allowed back into a school to teach again.

But probation may be an entirely appropriate sentence for the "situational" sex offender, while prison time is definitely warranted for the sexual predator. We leave it to judges to make the distinction.

A group called Stop Educator Sexual Abuse, Misconduct and Exploitation is calling for "zero tolerance" against teachers, saying there should be no provision for probation. One argument is that probation doesn't take into account the victim.

But probation is, in fact, a sentence that can take into account the victim -- who in some cases still has feelings for the convicted teacher. Although these relationships are not considered consensual sex in the eyes of the law, they sometimes are in the eyes of the participants.

Let prison time be assessed when it is warranted, but leave judges the latitude to levy appropriate sentences.


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