JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Former Windy Hill Elementary School Teacher of the Year Christopher Bacca pleaded guilty Wednesday to charges of sexual battery and lewd and lascivious conduct with a minor in a case involving his former student.
Bacca accepted one 30-year and one 40-year sentence in the Florida State Prison system, to be served concurrently. He was also given lifetime probation and the designation of sex offender.
Speaking in a voice barely above a whisper, Bacca told County Judge Russell Healey that he accepted the plea deal, and all of the conditions of living on the sex offender registry, including avoiding contact with children, living no closer than 1,000 feet from a school or playground (no closer than 2,500 feet in Duval County), submitting to warrantless searches of his home and not using the internet.
Prosecutor Theresa Simak told the court the State Attorney's Office was prepared to show that Bacca had befriended and abused one of his former male students, identified only as "AJ," winning over his family's trust and arranging to have him sleep over at Bacca's house. Some spectators in the courtroom groaned as Simak outlined the particulars of Bacca's abuse.
The case wasn't the first time Bacca was accused of improper interaction with a student. Hired in 2008 as a fourth grade teacher at Long Branch Elementary School, Bacca was found to have had sleepovers with one of his male students. According to a report by the Department of Children and Families, later released by the school district, Bacca's behavior was found to be inappropriate, having caused "some harm to a child."
The boy denied that any sexual contact had occurred and no charges were filed in that case. However, DCF recommended that he be moved to work with a "less vulnerable" population. Instead, Duval County Public Schools moved him to Windy Hill Elementary, where he taught fourth grade and made $38,000 a year. He was selected that school's "Teacher of the Year" in 2012 -- the same period when the abuse occurred. He was arrested in July 2012 and terminated by the district in August 2012
Bacca's family and supporters – all women – left the courtroom in tears. Bacca's lawyer, Ann Finnell, asked media to leave them alone.
Speaking after the sentencing, A. Wellington Barlow, attorney for the family of the victim, said that family agreed to the plea deal to spare A.J. having to testify in court.
Bacca was the subject of a profile in 2012 in the Florida Times-Union in which he talked about his approach to teaching.
"You cannot have an academically rigorous classroom until your children trust you and they know you love, appreciate and respect them," he said at the time. "Every child craves love. And not every child gets the love they deserve at home. And so whose job is it to provide that love for them? I think it's mine. I know that it's mine."