ANNAPOLIS — Part-time school employees in Maryland have legally been able to engage in sexual relationships with students as young as 16 and avoid prosecution due to a loophole in the current law.
Delegates from Montgomery and Allegany counties proposed two bills Tuesday that would prohibit school employees 21 and over — including full-time, part-time, contractors and coaches — from having sexual contact with minor students.
The current law was passed in 2006 and only prohibits full-time employees from sexual contact with students who are of legal age to consent, which is 16 in Maryland.
During their testimonies, Delegates Sam Arora and Luiz R. S. Simmons, both Montgomery Democrats, cited the recent case involving Scott Spear, a former part-time track coach at Richard Montgomery High School.
Mr. Spear was arrested in February and accused of engaging in sexual intercourse with a 16-year-old student-athlete off campus. Mr. Spear denied the allegations.
He could not be prosecuted because it is not illegal under Maryland law for a part-time employee of a school to have consensual sex with a student who is 16 or older.
"We can only imagine that those lawmakers who were there (in 2006) couldn't have imagined this sort of thing happening," Mr. Arora said. "But because of the language, there's a problem with the law."
Lisae C. Jordan, legislative counsel for the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault and Maryland Children's Alliance, testified in support of the bill and said another flaw includes the failure to report these types of cases.
"We became aware of the Montgomery County case (of last year) because someone tried to institute a charge and failed and then the press found out about it," Ms. Jordan said. "Generally speaking, prosecutors don't report someone who does not commit a crime."
John R. Woolums, the director of Governmental Relations of the Maryland Association of Boards of Education, said the Spear case was essentially the impetus for the legislation.
"The legislation in 2006 was amended at the 'last minute' on the Senate side to add that restriction that has limited it to full-time employees," Mr. Woolums said. "Over the years, there have been cases where part-time, temporary employees could have been subject to the fourth-degree sex offense but for that limitation."
Two other cases in Maryland that fell through the cracks in the law in recent years include a part-time coach at a Catholic high school in Anne Arundel in 2011 and a part-time teacher at a Carroll County public high school in 2010.
Although the bill would amend the definition of "person in a position of authority" to cover temporary employees, the House panel that heard the bills raised questions regarding non-salaried volunteers in school
settings who are in positions to mentor and influence minors.
A person found guilty of the misdemeanor, a fourth-degree sex offense, under the proposed law would be subject to a 1-year prison sentence, a fine not exceeding $1,000, or both.