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Our view: Minnesota, close this legal loophole

Minnesota state law regarding teacher-student conduct has a great loophole — an alarmingly large one that must be closed. Fortunately, it's an issue that has been moved to the front burner and one that could see action this year by the Minnesota Legislature.

At present, it is legal for teachers and school administrators to have sex with students, provided those students are at least 18 years old. That means a student who, say, turns 18 during Christmas break could conceivably be in a sexual relationship with a teacher for the entire second semester of a school year, and there's nothing in state law against it.

According to a report last week in the St. Paul Pioneer Press, it happens. For example, in 2007, a coach at Hastings High School allegedly was involved sexually with one of his softball players. When authorities were alerted, the only thing they could do was charge the coach with providing liquor to minors.

More recently, an 18-year-old Burnsville High School student reported having sex with a teacher but, after investigation, it was determined that the state could not press charges due to the state law. The inability to pursue legal charges came after it was learned the teacher and student would meet for sex in a classroom during the lunch hour, according to a report by KARE-TV.

KARE also reported that "even when the Minnesota Department of Education receives reports of teachers having sex with students, they don't investigate ... unless the sexual relationship began before the student turned 18."

For goodness' sake, Minnesota: Change this outdated, ridiculous loophole in the law.

Fortunately, two proposals have been presented in the Legislature this year, both of which could help.

One would make it illegal for a teacher, administrator, staff member, contractor or volunteer in a position of authority to have sex with any high school student age 21 or younger. Those who break the proposed law would be guilty of either third- or fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct.

Another proposal would extend a ban on sexual relations between a teacher and student for 120 days after student graduates.

Neither bill has faced opposition during public hearings, and that's good. Actually, it would be fascinating to hear an argument against these bills.

Because teachers and administrators are in positions that come with great trust, laws must be enacted that prevent them from interacting sexually with their students. To simply say that a student who has turned 18 is an "adult" — and therefore able to interact sexually with these trusted public employees — is ludicrous.

Minnesota's current law creates an environment in which there is no legal accountability for this behavior. Too, it enables teachers to groom children as potential partners.

We urge the Legislature to close this startling loophole.