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SIOUX CITY, Iowa (AP) — A sex case involving a student and an adult worker at a Sioux City high school has exposed a gap in an Iowa law designed to protect students from exploitation.
If an employee is not a licensed teacher, aide or coach, there may be little the state's justice system can do, according to the Sioux City Journal (http://bit.ly/1OtyCqd ).
"It's a challenge because the law isn't specifically clear in instances on whether it covers an employee or volunteer," said Woodbury County Attorney Patrick Jennings.
Iowa law defines a school employee as an administrator, teacher or licensed individual, or someone with a coaching authorization. It doesn't cover non-teachers, volunteers or contract employees.
Because of pending litigation, Sioux City Community Schools' human resources director, Rita Vannatta, said she could not comment on how many people who work in the city's schools are not employed by the district.
Erick Deleon was an educational specialist with the iJAG program, a Des Moines-based nonprofit that works with at-risk students, when he became involved with a 16-year-old girl at Sioux City's North High School. Deleon was not a school employee and was not required to have a teacher's license, although he did have a state coaching endorsement for his role as an assistant boys' soccer coach at West High School.
During the 2013-14 academic year, Deleon led the iJAG program and the girl was one of the participants. As part of the program, students and iJAG educational specialists exchange cellphone numbers so that the specialists are available to students having problems outside of school hours.
Authorities say Deleon exchanged text messages with the girl after she left the program, and went to her home in September to discuss problems she was having. They say Deleon kissed her as he left, and the two later had sex twice at the girl's home.
Deleon was arrested and charged with sexual exploitation by a school employee. The sexual abuse statute did not apply, because the girl was 16, Iowa's age of consent.
Prosecutors later sought clarification on whether Deleon was a school employee. District Judge Jeffrey Neary ruled that Deleon was a school employee because he possessed a valid coaching authorization.
In August, prosecutors asked the court to determine whether Deleon was a mandatory reporter of child abuse because of his role in the district. Mandatory reporters found guilty of sexual abuse are required to serve prison time and cannot receive suspended sentences.
District Judge Steven Andreasen ruled that Deleon was a mandatory reporter in his role as a soccer coach, but not in the context of the girl who had been in the program Deleon supervised.
Deleon was convicted of sexual exploitation by a school employee, but the trial judge noted the gap in state law.
Information from: Sioux City Journal, http://www.siouxcityjournal.com