Having a romantic or sexual relationship with an underage student is a shocking exploitation of power. Here are 9 disturbing sex scandals involving teachers.
1. Debra Lafave
Debra Lafave was a Florida teacher who became notorious after having an affair with a 14-year-old student. According to the New York Daily News, Lafave pled guilty in 2005 to at least four sexual encounters with one of her middle school students a year before. She was married at the time, and she and her husband divorced amid the scandal.
She faced up to 30 years in prison but her attorney said "to place Debbie into a Florida state women's penitentiary, to place an attractive young woman in that kind of hellhole, is like putting a piece of raw meat in with the lions."
According to Aol, because her victim didn’t want to stand trial, Lafave pleaded guilty to two counts of lewd and lascivious battery and got off with house arrest and probation.
She later sued Florida to have her parole ended and won. Debra Lafave, who is now 36, was able to end her probation early in 2014.
Her ex-husband Owen Lafave told Ocala that in 2006 that he often felt like he had a sign around his neck that said, “I’m Owen Lafave, my wife slept with a child.”
He said he endured a lot because of the sex scandal.
“I heard all the jokes on the cable talk shows and how guys say they wish they had a teacher like her. Some people thought she did this because of me; they thought I was gay or we didn’t have an intimate sexual relationship,” he said.
2. Mary Kay Letourneau
[Washington State Sex Offender Information]
Mary Kay Letourneau was 34 and married when she began her relationship with 12-year-old student Vili Fualaau. It was 1996, and Letourneau was Fualaau’s sixth grade teacher.
In a 2015 interview with Barbara Walters, Letourneau said, "The incident was a late night that didn't stop with a kiss. I thought that it would and it didn't."
Police found Letourneau and Fualaau in a minivan parked at the Des Moines Marina, according to Biography. Letourneau lied to police and said that the boy was 18. She was soon arrested for second-degree child rape. Not long after, she found out she was pregnant with Fualaau’s child.
She gave birth to their first daughter not long before Letourneau pleaded guilty to child rape in exchange for a three-month jail sentence and probation. The judge approved the plea bargain on condition that Letourneau had no contact with Fualaau.
By 1998, she was out of jail, and soon after, police once again caught Letourneau and Fualaau together in a car. She was arrested for parole violation. According to Biography, police found $6,200 in cash, baby clothing, and Letourneau’s passport inside the car. Authorities speculated that the pair was planning to flee the country. Letourneau became pregnant with their second daughter to whom she gave birth to in prison. Both daughters were in the custody of Fualaau’s mother while Letourneau served six years in prison.
When she got out of jail, Fualaau, who was 21 at the time, filed a motion in court to reverse no-contact order against Letourneau. The judge granted the request and the pair married in 2005. They celebrated their 10-year anniversary in 2015 and are raising their two daughters together. Letourneau now works as a legal assistant and Fualaau works as a DJ and employee at a home garden center. She is 53 and he is 32.
3. Shelley Dufresne and Rachel Respess
[Kenner Police Department]
Louisiana teachers Shelley Dufresne and Rachel Respess had a threesome with a 16-year-old student. Respess was 25 and Dufrense was 33 at the time.
According to an ABC affiliate, police arrested Dufresne and Respess in September 2014 after the male student was invited to Respess’ apartment, where he had sex with both women as the same time.
Dufresne allegedly had sex with the same boy over 40 times within a time span of weeks, according to The Advocate.
4. Matthew Shane Wester
Alabama teacher and coach Matthew Shane Wester was 37 when he was charged with caught having sex with a student in 2015. Amidst the sex scandal Wester divorced his wife and then 67 days later married the 18-year old student.
According to the New York Daily News, a prosecutor claimed the former teacher married student Amy Nicole Cox in an attempt to keep her from testifying at trial, a prosecutor charges.
Wester taught math and was the head track coach and an assistant football coach at the high school. He was charged with being a school employee and having sexual contact with a student under 19 years old.
Charges were dropped against Wester in 2016.
5. Brianne Altice
[Utah Department of Corrections]
Utah teacher Brianne Altice pleaded guilty in 2015 to sexual abuse for having sex with three of her students.
According to People, Altice said, “This was no one else’s fault but my own. This was not my ex-husband’s fault, or the school’s fault, or my students’ fault. These were my poor, poor decisions. I’m very aware of it and I am very remorseful. I regret the decisions I made that brought us here.”
She was English teacher a wife and a mother of two.
Altice, who is now 37, had pleaded guilty to three counts of forcible sex abuse in exchange for 11 charges including three first-degree felony rape charges getting dropped.
In 2013, one of the victims came forward to police according to People. Her victims were 16 and 17 at the time.
Altice had admitted to having sex with a the 16-year-old student in a church parking lot and during the school lunch hour. She also confessed, according to People, to having sexual contact with a 17-year-old after she was arrested and while out on bail.
“I had extreme self-esteem issues, and they [the victims] said things that made me feel good about myself,” she said. “I just started to justify everything. I wasn’t functioning in a healthy adult manner at all.”
District Attorney Cristina Ortega told people that, “I think she took advantage of each of the boys and what issues they may have had, whether it was their family or drugs or that sort of thing. …. I think she took advantage of that and she made their problems even worse. And on top of that, they had to deal with the public scrutiny of a lot of people saying, ‘You are not a victim because you are a boy.’ I think she layered on the impact with these boys.”
Altice’s current release date is 2045.
6. Tad Cummins
[Photo:Tennessee Bureau of Investigation]
50-year-old Tennessee teacher Tad Cummins has allegedly run away with 15-year-old Elizabeth Thomas on March 13 with Cummins. He was her forensics teacher. The two were spotted on a surveillance camera at an Oklahoma City Wal-mart two days later, but neither have been heard or seen since.
According to various reports, Cummins and Thomas were seen kissing in a classroom. They also wrote each other love notes on a school computer. On March 5th, Cummins researched teen marriage online according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. Her instagram bio has been changed recently to include "wife."
According to Crime Online, Thomas told friends and family she was scared of Cummins. A court document from Thomas’ father alleges that Cummins would visit the girl’s job at a fast food restaurant against her wishes.
Police believe that Cummins kidnapped the teen and he is now on the Top 10 Most Wanted List.
7. Pamela Smart
49-year-old Smart was a media coordinator at a high school where she met 15-year-old Billy Flynn. She also led a program called that was meant to help teenagers cope with sex and drugs. The then 22-year-old married Smart and Flynn started an affair. Allegedly, Smart convinced Flynn to kill her husband, Gregg Smart.
Flynn and three friends killed Smart’s husband in 1990 while she was at a board meeting. According to the New York Post, Flynn’s friend Patrick “Pete” Randall held a knife to Gregg Smart’s throat while Flynn shot him in the head.
Pamela Smart has admitted to seducing Flynn, but has always claimed innocence about the murder. Flynn and his friends have all been released from prison after cutting deals to testify against Smart.
The trial inspired the Joyce Maynard novel To Die For, which was made into a film.
8. Heather Phillips
[Port St. Lucie Police Department]
Preschool teacher Heather Phillips had sex with her 12-year-old daughter's boyfriend, who was 15. She claimed that the teen got her pregnant. The mother was 40 at the time.
According to WPBF News, an ABC affiliate in Florida, Phillips was charged with two counts of lewd and lascivious behavior/sexual activity with a child under 16.
A police report said it all started when the two would have private conversations about Phillips' daughter and her relationship with the boy. Often the conversations would take place after the couple had arguments.
According to WPBF News, Phillips encouraged the teen to not break up with her daughter. But, she also allegedly told him that he was a "hot kid” and that she herself had feelings for him.
Phillips began messaging the victim in 2015 using an app called ooVoo after he broke up with her daughter. Soon, Phillips and the 15-year-old met at a park where they allegedly had sex on a slide. The victim told police that the sex was not consensual and that Phillips forced him.
In a separate incident, Phillips allegedly drove to the boy's home and asked him to get inside her car. She drove him to her house, and brought him to her bedroom. The victim said he didn’t want to have sex, according to the report. Phillips then allegedly took out a pocket knife and laid in on the nightstand and told him "don't run.” She allegedly performed oral sex on him. Then, they allegedly had unprotected sex seven times. Two weeks later, she contacted him to tell him that she was pregnant.
9. Melody Suzanne Lippert and Michelle Louise Ghirelli
[Orange County Register]
Two California high school teachers were convicted of having underage sex with a male student during a drug-fueled camping trip in 2014.
According to KTLA, Melody Suzanne Lippert and Michelle Louise Ghirelli went on a three day camping trips with five of their students. The trip was organized by Lippert and was not approved by the school. Lippert was 38 at the time time and Ghirelli was 30.
Ghirelli gave alcohol and cocaine to the students, prosecutors said. She also had sexual relations with a 17-year-old student during trip, which was apparently facilitated by Lippert.
Lippert pleaded guilty to one felony count of unlawful sexual intercourse was sentenced to three years formal probation and three months in jail. Ghirelli pleaded guilty to one felony count of unlawful sexual intercourse and one felony count of furnishing a controlled substance. She was sentenced to three years formal probation and 180 days in jail.