A former teacher at Euless Junior High has been sentenced to two years in prison for having a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old student that led to the girl getting pregnant.
Cornelius Antoine Smith, 27, had plead guilty back in June to sexual assault of a child under age 17.
He was sentenced Sept. 15 by State District Judge Mike Thomas, court records show. Smith’s defense attorneys had requested probation for Smith while prosecutors asked for significant prison time, according to the Tarrant County District Attorney’s office.
Smith remained in the Tarrant County Jail Friday. His defense attorney, Scottie Allen, did not immediately return a message from the Star-Telegram seeking comment.
Upon his release from prison, Smith will be required to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.
His case illustrates a growing problem in public schools, where — for the ninth year in a row — the number of teachers accused of an improper relationship with a student has increased across the state, according to the Texas Education Agency.
The agency opened 302 of such cases in fiscal year 2016-17 — a 36 percent spike from the previous fiscal year’s 222 cases.
DeEtta Culbertson, a spokeswoman with the TEA, said the agency believes the rise is due to more people reporting such accusations and the increased communication between students and teachers on social media.
“With the implementation and rise of social media and a teacher being able to access students 24 hours a day, sometimes it has crossed the line,” Culbertson said.
Culbertson said teacher-student interactions that may have started out as simple reminders of upcoming tests and such “could have morphed into something less right.”
“Then you have people who shouldn’t be in the teaching profession in the first place,” she added.
Smith was in his first year of teaching in the Hurst-Euless-Bedford school district when the relationship came to light in June 2016.
According to an arrest warrant affidavit, the teacher accompanied the girl’s mother, father and aunt to the Euless Police Department on June 3, 2016, where he told a detective he had sex one time with the girl in May in the parking lot of a vacant store.
In an interview a couple weeks later, however, the girl said her relationship with the teacher had become physical several months prior after the the two had been conversing on KiK, a messaging application popular with teens.
She said the two would kiss and she would perform oral sex on him inside his classroom during his conference period. She said they also had sexual contact at her house when here parents were away.
The girl found out she was pregnant on June 2, 2016.
The girl told investigators that Smith had told her he would help her — whether she had the child or if she had an abortion. Smith said, however, he would have to take his wife and children to East Texas before he could care for her and their child, according to the girl.
Police alerted the Hurst-Euless-Bedford school district about their investigation. Smith resigned after being notified that the district was going to begin termination proceedings, officials have said.
New laws in effect
According to online records, Smith remains under review by the TEA’s Educator Investigations Division. Culbertson said typically the agency will suspend their investigation until after the criminal case is completed.
On Sept. 1, a new law went into effect aimed at strengthening efforts to combat inappropriate relationships between teachers and students.
The law expands the Penal Code definition of an improper relationship to include a student from any district and grants the TEA the ability to revoke teaching certificates of all registered sex offenders —even for crimes not involving a minor or in which the teacher received deferred adjudication probation.
The new law requires districts to notify parents of these cases and to implement social media policies that prohibit improper communication between educators and students. It also requires principals, no longer just superintendents, to report such misconduct or face penalties.
Culbertson said additional funding appropriated under the new law will allow the agency to hire two additional investigators.
Diane Smith contributed to this report.