On Monday, October 1, detectives with the Berks County District Attorney’s office secured an arrest warrant for a teacher from Hamburg Area High School based on allegations of a sexual relationship with a student at the school. 47-year-old Holly A. Smith is expected to turn herself in and faces charges of institutional sexual assault, corruption of minors, unlawful contact with a minor, and child endangerment.
According to investigators, detectives became aware of a possible sexual relationship between the teacher and one of her 16-year-old students on September 13. A detective interviewed the student’s parents, who said that they’d found messages on their son’s cellphones, including Facebook messages, that showed he was in a sexual relationship with Smith.
The parents said that they then arranged to meet Smith at a public park and confronted her about what they’d found. She reportedly cried, apologized, and confessed that she had been in an intimate relationship with the student for three months. According to the District Attorney’s office, the student said that the relationship had been going on for five months.
Attorney contributor Brian Kent helps the survivors of sexual assault tell their stories and find justice for the trauma they’ve suffered. We’ve asked him to discuss the legal options available to those who have been sexually abused by teachers, coaches, and other school employees:
While we’d like to believe that all of the teachers in our communities are trustworthy and honorable people, it’s no secret that some teachers are sexual predators who end up engaging in inappropriate sexual conduct with their students or sexually assaulting them. When this happens, the criminal justice system will handle the prosecution of the teacher. But the victim and their family should be aware that they also have legal options in the civil court system.
In some cases, a school district is at fault for failing to keep their students safe from abuse due to negligence. For example, a district could be negligent for failing to suspend or fire a teacher who has been accused of sexual misconduct. When negligence is found to have played a role in enabling a teacher to sexually abuse a student, the student’s family may have grounds for a teacher sex abuse lawsuit against the district.
Determining school district negligence is a complicated legal process. If your child has been sexually abused by a school employee and you’d like to learn more about your legal options, we advise speaking to an experienced sexual abuse survivors lawyer.