School reeling from teacher sex abuse scandal

Published March 9, 2009 9:39 pm
Bountiful » Two teachers -- both mothers of teenage children -- are accused of sex with boy
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Stunned by the alleged rape of a student by two of his teachers, Bountiful Junior High School principal Brent Stephens spent most of Monday pacifying teachers and parents.

In an e-mail he invited them to share concerns, noting "no question or concern is too trivial," and counselors were made available to meet with students at the school.

Yet school officials had no plans to revisit professional guidelines after accusations that the teachers -- both mothers of teenage children -- had sex with the same student after their relationships with him escalated from personal conversations to erotic text messaging and phone sex.

No school district in Utah has contemplated barring teachers from texting or e-mailing students, though the practice has played a role in other alleged and actual cases of sexual misconduct.

"There are times when text-messaging a student might be appropriate. It's really a matter of common sense," said district spokesman Christopher Williams. "Maybe a teacher hasn't been able to reach a student at home and that student has been absent for a few days."

Emotions at the school Monday ranged from sadness to anger as teachers grappled with feelings of betrayal and sympathy for their colleagues, both of whom have sterling teaching records and no criminal histories.

"We are in the healing process and hope to learn and improve from those mistakes that were made," said Stephens in his e-mail. "We desire nothing more than to do what is best for the students and finish this year as strong as we can."

Stephens took the helm of Bountiful Junior High less than a year ago and couldn't speak to whether there were warning signs of any inappropriate relationships. He declined to say whether the alleged victim was still attending school, citing privacy laws.

On Friday, the Davis County Attorney's Office filed first degree felony charges of rape and sodomy on a child against Linda R. Nef, 46, and Valynne Bowers, 39.

Court documents allege Nef, a Utah studies teacher and cheerleading adviser, had oral sex and intercourse with a 13-year-old male student between December 2007 and February 2008. Bowers, who teaches math, allegedly confessed to also having oral sex and intercourse with the same student, now 14, between January 2009 and February 2009.

Police have said the two teachers were ignorant of each other's relationship with the boy for a time. None of the sex acts are alleged to have happened at the school, but took place in homes, parking lots and public parks.

Repeated attempts Monday to reach Nef and Bowers, who have been released on bail, for comment were unsuccessful. Both women have teenage children; school officials won't say whether any of them attend Bountiful Junior High. Bowers is divorced and Nef, currently is married.

Neither woman have a record of complaints or sanctions, said Carol Lear at the Utah State Office of Education, which licenses teachers. Background checks run on both teachers prior to their hiring came up clean.

"A lot of people have no history with this stuff...it's subtle," Lear said.

Bowers started teaching at the elementary school level in 1999 and landed a job at Bountiful Junior High in 2006. She was trained at the University of Utah and has an undergraduate degree and master's degree in education, state records show.

Nef started teaching at Bountiful Junior High in 2005. She got her college degree in Russian at Brigham Young University and was certified to each social studies and English as a Second Language.

Parents interviewed say the teachers were regarded as top notch and known for going the extra mile for their students.

"We were completely shocked," said Julie Winters, a member of the PTA. "I know Linda [Nef] well and she is just an amazing, great lady."

Bountiful Mom Nicoll Goold said her son enrolled this year in Utah civics because "he loved [Nef] so much."

Goold said her son was reluctant to return to school Monday, but not out of fear.

"He missed her. She was the only reason he took that class. He said, I just don't want to go back," said Goold. "She was a good person who made an awful mistake."

Tribune reporter Nate Carlisle contributed to this report.

School rules on teacher-student contact

No school district in Utah bars teachers from text-messaging or e-mailing students. But sexual misconduct merits the immediate revocation of a teaching license under Utah law. Under Utah State Office of Education rules teachers may not:

» Solicit, encourage or consummate an inappropriate relationship, written, verbal or physical with a student or minor.

» Participate in sexual, physical, or emotional harassment or knowingly allow harassment toward students or colleagues.

» Make inappropriate contact in any communication -- written, verbal or electronic -- with a minor, student or colleague.

» Accept or give gifts to students that would suggest or further an inappropriate relationship.

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