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A law prohibiting sex between adult teachers and underage students does not violate educators' constitutional rights, the Arkansas Court of Appeals said Wednesday.

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The judges unanimously upheld the conviction and 25-year prison sentence of Danny Akers, 41, a former Trumann High School English teacher who impregnated one of his students.

"The State has an interest in protecting students from sexual advances from their teachers and school employees who have a unique access to minors and are inherently viewed as authority figures," Judge Larry Vaught wrote. "Akers has provided no legal authority or persuasive argument as to why we should extend constitutional privacy protection to an adult's sexual relationship with a minor, and we decline to do so."

Akers taught the girl in her freshman and sophomore English classes and also served as a faculty adviser for a club she belonged to.

In June 2011, their relationship became sexual and the two met at homes, including her grandmother's, for intercourse. She was 15 years old at the time.

The pair continued their relationship that fall, often meeting at school early in the morning and between classes "to talk, kiss and have sex in his classroom," Vaught wrote. If the girl was running late after an encounter, Akers would write her a note excusing her tardiness.

The encounters continued after she learned that she was pregnant with his child. Akers finally told her, weeks before their son's July 2012 birth, that he couldn't leave his wife and to "leave him alone."

Akers delivered the news via text message.

Ultimately Akers was convicted of first-degree sexual assault, a Class A felony punishable by up to 30 years in prison, because he was in a position of authority as a teacher involved with a minor.

He was also convicted of fourth-degree sexual assault because he was an adult over the age of 20 having sex with a child under the age of 16. The Class D felony is punishable by up to five years in prison.

After his April 23, 2014, conviction, Akers appealed, arguing that Circuit Judge John Fogleman should have given him a summary acquittal because prosecutors failed to demonstrate that he used his position as a teacher to take advantage of the student.

Vaught sided with the lower court's ruling by finding that the state didn't need to prove he used influence in the relationship. The state's sexual assault statute simply requires that he be a teacher or an employee at her school.

Akers argued that the state law criminalizes "otherwise legal" sexual conduct, which violates his right to privacy, and does so "solely" because he is a teacher, which violates his constitutional right to equal protection.

Laws touching on equal protection need only to have a rational government interest to be valid, Vaught wrote.

Ultimately, Vaught noted, the state has an interest in making laws which "punish school district employees who abuse their positions of trust and authority" for encounters with "children."

While the Arkansas Supreme Court recently struck down a statute that prohibited sex between schoolteachers and consenting-age students, Vaught noted that the student in the earlier case had been 18 years old.

Akers remained at the Cummins Unit prison in Gould.

Metro on 05/28/2015

Print Headline: Teacher's appeal of teen-sex term rejected by court

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