A 14-year-old boy told police in Florida that he had a sexual relationship with his eighth grade science teacher. On February 28, the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office released a statement saying that Stephanie Peterson, 26, had been arrested and accused of having an inappropriate relationship with a student going back to November 2017. During their relationship, the boy told police that Peterson would pick him up at his home at around 11 p.m. and bring him back at around 1 or 2 a.m. The press release says that the alleged abuse began when Peterson sent the victim nude photos.
The student was first interviewed by officers on February 27 after he told his parents about the abuse, the day before Peterson’s arrest. Peterson resigned from her job on February 26. In addition, according to the sheriff’s statement, Peterson is also accused of buying the child marijuana and bowls to smoke it. The victim’s grades suffered during the abuse and Peterson told the teen that he couldn’t tell anyone or they would get in trouble, according to the sheriff’s statement. When Peterson was arrested, she was held on a $25,000 bond. That bond was later reduced to $12,500 which Peterson posted and was released from custody. The bond was lowered due to Peterson’s lack of a criminal record and “lengthy” ties to the community.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Peterson Is in the Process of Divorcing Her Firefighter Husband
The Daytona Beach News-Journal reports that Peterson married firefighter Brandon Ferri in New Smyrna Beach on December 5, 2015. A News-Journal article on Peterson’s February 2018 arrest says that she is being represented in her divorce from Ferri by her father, attorney Philip Peterson. The divorce application was filed on February 12.
According to Brandon Ferri’s now-deleted Facebook page, he is a firefighter and EMT with the Deland Fire Department. In addition, Ferri also runs fishing expeditions in New Smyrna Beach. That page says that Ferri has lived in the area his whole life and “has operated his own boat on Mosquito Lagoon since the age of 15.” Ferri has not commented on his estranged wife’s arrest.
Peterson is facing two counts of lewd or lascivious battery and one count of transmission of harmful materials to a minor. Speaking to Click Orlando, Sheriff Mike Chitwood said, “I think it’s a good place for her. You play them with drugs, you’re in a position of power, ‘Don’t tell anybody, we’re going to get in trouble. I’m going to make you the teacher’s aide.’ Basically, that young man, his childhood was stolen.”
2. The Victim Had Been Peterson’s Teacher’s Aide
Speaking to the Daytona Beach News-Journal, a school district spokeswoman said that Peterson began working in the district as a substitute teacher in October 2010. From there, Peterson worked as a reading teacher with the Creekside Middle School in Port Orange before landing in New Smyrna Middle School in August 2016 where she taught science. When asked the reason for Peterson’s resignation, a spokeswoman said the reason given was “personal.”
Click Orlando reported that the 14-year-old child involved in Peterson’s arrest had been her teacher’s aide.
3. Her Father Is a Prominent Attorney in New Smyrna Beach
Peterson’s father is Philip Peterson, a private practice lawyer with DeLoach and Peterson law firm in New Smyrna Beach, Florida. According to his bio on the firm’s website, Philip Peterson, a native of Iowa, moved to Florida when his father worked in the space program in 1967. In 1975, Philip ran a movie theater in the area known as the New Smyrna Theater, along with his brother, Sid. From there, Philip studied at Daytona Community College, Stetson Business School and the Stetson College of Law. He was admitted to the Florida bar in 1982. His bio concludes, “Phil has built and earned a reputation for integrity, zealous representation, efficiency, and results.”
The law firm was started by Philip’s brother, Sid’s, father-in-law. Sid Peterson is also a lawyer in the firm. His bio says that he ran the movie theater along side his brother.
4. It’s Texas that Leads the Way in Prosecuting Teachers Accused of Abusing Students
In November 2016, Texas State Representative Tony Dale sought to pass legislation that would prevent, as Dale says, teachers merely resigning and moving. Dale said of his legislation, “HB 218 increases penalties and close loopholes that allow educators who engage in inappropriate relationships to resign and obtain employment in another district. This bill seeks to allow Texas the tools we need to get rid of teachers who prey on our children.”
5. Female Educators Make Up a Small Fraction Teacher/Student Sexual Assault Convictions
Slate reported that female educators make up 4 percent of convicted rapists in teacher/student sexual assault cases in 2006. While in 2016, former Department of Education chief of staff, Terry Abbott, wrote in the Washington Post that teacher/student sexual assault cases were on the rise. For example, in Kentucky in 2011, the state saw the number of such cases nearly double.