Law strengthens penalty for misbehaving teachers

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The ability to affect change doesn't have an age, look or title. For some Armwood High School (Tampa) students and their teacher, change came from a noble idea and hard work.

"It's a lot of time and effort that we put into this," said Elyse Chinowth, one of the students.

They helped pass the "Stop Harassing Underage Teens Act." It strengthens the penalties for teachers or other authority figures who commit a sexual offense on a student.

"We as students obviously see that there's a problem and if we see it's a problem as students in a public school, it must mean something that we're trying to get this done," she said.

Dozens of teachers in Florida lose their licenses each year due to sexual misconduct with a student. A 2009 study shows high school kids were the most likely to be abused.

Tallahassee attorney Benjamin Crump has represented children and families who say they've experienced misconduct by a teacher.

"It's a public trust that we have with educators, with law enforcement officers and others," Crump said. "When you have to prove that they violated that public trust, that they manipulated a child, that they stole the innocence of a juvenile, you then look and say what law is there to help us."

The law pushes the penalty for crimes to the next level. A second degree felony could become a first degree. A first degree felony could become a life sentence.

"It's just a really good feeling that we could all do this together as a group and none of us feel alone in it."

The measure officially becomes law the beginning of October.


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