GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — There have been several high-profile cases of West Michigan high school teachers convicted of having sex with students. But the state draws the line at 18 years old. In Michigan, if a high school student is a legal adult, a teacher can engage in a sexual relationship with him or her without fear of criminal charges.
That’s why when police say Saranac High School teacher Alison Hoendervanger exchanged racy text messages with her student and he told detectives that they had sex a few days after he turned 18, there was no crime committed.
Inside woodtv.com: Loophole allows teacher-student sex in some cases
“All the teacher has to do it wait until they are 18,” said Ionia County Prosecutor Ron Schafer.
Schafer said he’s frustrated he can’t charge Hoendervanger and worries that some teachers might spend years grooming their students.
“Teachers that might be inclined to this activity have free reign at our students during these very difficult four to five years,” he said. “It doesn’t happen overnight.”
Schafer feels so strongly he testified before legislators after a case at Ionia High School in 2010. In that case, a male teacher took his female student to a hotel the day after she turned 18.
“I am shocked that Michigan Law allows any teacher to have sex with a student,” state Sen. Rick Jones (R-Grand Ledge) said in 2011.
After the Ionia incident, he proposed a bill to make it a crime for teachers to have sex with students no matter what their age. It passed the Senate twice, but now sits stagnant in the House of Representatives.
A spokesperson for Speaker of the House Jase Bolger (R-Marshall) told Target 8 lawmakers have some concerns, like where the line would be drawn. According to the law, an 18-year-old is an adult.
“There is some thinking that it’s an unnecessary step,” said Bolger’s spokesperson Anna Heaton. “This is just some members. This is not the opinion of the entire caucus. But most school districts make this a condition of employment now that when you are a teacher, you get a contract and sign it, you have to say you will not have relations with a student and that you can be fired if you do.”
But even if a teacher is fired, the Michigan Department of Education confirms there is nothing to stop them legally from getting another teaching job. That’s why in the Ionia High School case the superintendent put a memo regarding the incident in the teacher’s file, hoping potential employers would see it.
“You have young students. They are very impressionable,” said Sen. Jones. “They have teachers and coaches controlling the future of their life.”
In the Saranac case, the student told detectives he was afraid to break off the relationship because he worried that his teacher wouldn’t help him graduate on time so he could join the Army.
“Why nothing has happened when we continue to see these same problems is perplexing,” said Schafer.
Eight other states have laws that make teacher-student sex illegal no matter what the student’s age. In 2012, Arkansas’s law was ruled unconstitutional because the sex was between consenting adults. But in 2010, Washington’s law was upheld as constitutional.