A recent amendment to the institutional sexual assault law meant the difference in whether or not a local teacher would be charged for sexual misconduct.
Emily L. Nesbit, 31, of Carlisle, was charged with felony institutional sexual assault after police received a report from school officials regarding possible sexual misconduct at Cumberland Valley High School between Nesbit and an 18-year-old student.
Cumberland County District Attorney David Freed said during a news conference Friday that an amendment went into effect in February 2012 that covers this exact type of incident, which involves a student who is of legal age. The law, which was amended to include all sexual acts between students and teachers, despite age or consent, was a “reaction to increased incidents of sexual behavior with students over 16 and teachers through the state,” he said.
“This represents the recognition of the inherent power of teachers over students and the impact that such behavior has on students at large, and also on the educational process,” Freed said. “Although the student involved is 18 years old, the conduct we allege could not fit more square into the behavior prohibited by law.”
He said a gap in the law was recognized, involving students over the age of 16 and their involvement with teachers, and the amendment to the law closes that gap.
“We’ve had over the years too many cases, frankly, involving school employees,” he said. “It is not limited to Cumberland Valley. We have had issues in school districts throughout the county.”
Nesbit voluntarily surrendered and was arraigned Friday. She was released on $100,000 cash bail, waived the preliminary hearing against her and is set to appear in Cumberland County Court of Common Pleas for a formal arraignment on May 22. She could face up to seven years in prison.
“She made a series of bad decisions at a low point in her life,” her attorney, Brian Perry, said. “These bad decisions will dramatically affect her former student and his family, not to mention the lives of Emily and her family. She intends to accept responsibility in court and continue to work on her personal issues that led to the alleged inappropriate conduct.”
The district said its administration learned of allegations on Monday and immediately notified local law enforcement and the District Attorney’s Office in accordance with the Child Protective Services Law. Nesbit, who is an English teacher at the high school, was placed on administrative leave Monday and resigned her position on Wednesday.
Cumberland Valley Superintendent Frederick Withum III said the district is fully cooperating with the investigation and providing counselors for students and staff.
“Regardless of the outcome of the investigation, decisions made by an individual have brought us here today, and have profound impacts on our students and our school district as a whole,” Withum said Friday during the news conference. “While we know public schools are a reflection of society, the school directors of the Cumberland Valley School District, parents, educators, the community and our students expect that the Cumberland Valley School District is better. Our desire is not to be a reflection of society but to reflect the best that society can be.”
The allegations came to light after a student received information and turned it over to the administration, Freed said.
“As often happens in school situations, a student got wind of it, saw something on a cellphone, brought it to a school employee — I believe a guidance counselor — who then took it to supervisors and the administration immediately got involved,” he said.
The affidavit of probable cause said police met with the student involved, who did not deny the allegations of a relationship and turned over his cellphone to police. Police say the student reported he has been meeting with Nesbit in her classroom “a couple times a week” after the end of the school days, has held hands with her and kissed her in the past, and that incidents of sexual contact had occurred.
The documents state the student reported that all these incidents occurred in the classroom after the end of the school day and that he and Nesbit began communicating regularly about two months ago.
Police said text messages between the two, dating from Feb. 19 to March 10, were found on the student’s phone, under the contact “My Lady Friend,” and provided evidence of “a relationship between the two of both a personal and sexual nature.”
The messages discuss meeting in her classroom during and after school hours, exchanging photographs of each other in various states of undress, and Nesbit “further discusses a desire to have sex with him,” implying that, “some sexual activity had already taken place.”
Nesbit was interviewed at her home and admitted to sexual acts with the student about a week prior, reported that she and the student have held hands and kissed and that their meetings occurred in the classroom.
Freed said Nesbit has cooperated with the investigation, and there as been no evidence found of contact with any other students.
He said it is important for parents to be aware of what their children are doing, and to routinely check their electronic communications.
“Certainly we should never expect that this is going to happen in one of our schools, but we as parents in this day and age, in this society, we have a duty to be on top of our kids and on top of the communications devices they use,” he said.
Freed said Cumberland Valley has fostered a culture of doing the right thing, creating an atmosphere where students feel safe to come forward.
“What we’ve got to teach our kids is that providing information like this is actually doing the right thing, not the wrong thing, and they should be praised for it,” he said. “The kids involved in this situation certainly should be.”
He said the 18-year-old student is currently dealing with the incident, and has a “good support system to do that.”
He said there are no legal ramifications for the student, but he could have potentially broken school rules.
Freed said the actions of school officials helped police quickly file charges.
“On behalf of the township, I’d like to extend our appreciation to Cumberland Valley School District for their cooperation and their quick and decisive action in this matter,” he said. “As soon as they learned of the details they immediately acted to remove Ms. Nesbit from her position, and simultaneously got the police department involved.”