A 28-year-old teacher at an Alabama high school is accused of engaging in a sexual act with a 17-year-old student, police say.
Stephanie Pruett, who is married and is the mother of a young child, teaches “Bible-as-literature” at Weaver High School in Calhoun County. She was arrested Thursday after the sheriff’s office received a tip about her alleged conduct, Sheriff Matthew Wade told Al.com.
Pruett has been placed on leave with pay, the newspaper reports.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Pruett, Who Police Say Has Been ‘Sexually Involved’ With the 17-Year-Old Student Since October 2017, Faces Up to 20 Years in Prison
Stephanie Pruett faces up to 20 years in prison and could be required to register as a sex offender if found guilty of the felony charge of engaging in a sexual act with a student, according to Alabama law.
According to the Anniston Star, two students reported Pruett to authorities.
“We got information today that a teacher and a student were having a relationship,” Sheriff Matthew Wade told the newspaper. “We spoke to both the teacher and the student and each gave facts that led to her arrest.”
Pruett and the student had been “engaged in a relationship” since October 2017, Wade told the Star.
“It doesn’t matter if this was consensual,” the sheriff told the newspaper. “Under the law it’s illegal.”
Wade told Al.com, “It’s sad that a woman who has a family and went to college to become an educator is giving that all up. I just don’t understand why she went down that path. It’s very disturbing and troubling.”
2. She Is in Her First Year Teaching at the School & Was Recently Featured in a Local Newspaper Story About Teaching the Bible in Alabama Public Schools
Pruett is in first year teaching at Weaver High School, according to the school’s website.
“This year, I will be teaching U.S. History 10 and U.S. History 11 as well as Bible as Literature,” she wrote.
In a statement, Weaver High School Principal Michael Allison told WBMA-TV, “Wrong is wrong. She broke a trust. As a principal, I can’t say how disappointed I am that she crossed that line that no teacher should cross.”
Pruett was recently featured in a story in the Anniston Star about an effort to bring the Bible into public school classrooms in Alabama.
“Pruett teaches a class on the Bible as literature to 30 high school students who chose the course as an elective. The fall semester was devoted to the Old Testament,” the newspaper wrote.
Pruett told the newspaper she isn’t scared to teacher the course, but said she handles it with care.
“I’m specific about the fact that we’re looking at this from a literary standpoint,” she told the newspaper in January.
Pruett has been placed on leave with pay, Randy Reaves, director of safety for Calhoun County Schools, told the Anniston Star.
“That’s standard operating procedure for us,” he told the newspaper. Pruett will remain on leave until the county school board takes further action, he said.
3. Pruett Graduated From Jacksonville State University, Worked as an ‘Academic Mentor’ for the Athletic Department There & Also Taught at Oxford High School
Pruett, whose maiden name is Stephanie Henry, is an Alabama native. She attended Jacksonville State University in Jacksonville, Alabama, graduating in 2012 with a history degree. Pruett later completed her master’s degree in secondary history education, also at Jacksonville state.
Pruett was the captain of the Marching Southerners Color Guard at Jacksonville State. According to her bio on the Weaver High School website, Pruett, “worked at Jacksonville State University in the Department of Academic Enhancement as an academic mentor for the athletic department.”
Pruett also taught history at Oxford High School in Oxford, Alabama, starting in 2015, and was the colorguard instructor there. While in colelge, she completed her practicum a student teacher at Glencoe Middle School and Pleasant Valley High School.
“I recently left my position within the Department of Academic Enhancement at Jacksonville State University where I mentored at-risk students and student-athletes, motivating them to strive to become successful inside and outside of the classroom,” she wrote in 2015. “My goal as an educator is to provide students with the opportunity to engage and learn inside and outside of the classroom.
“Each and every student that walks into my classroom is an unique individual. This requires a differentiated approach to instruction, involving tools, techniques, technology, and hands-on experiences to reach each and every student where they are academically,” she wrote.
4. She Has Been Married to Her High School Sweetherat Since 2012 & Is the Mother of a 4-Year-Old Son
Pruett and her high school sweetheart boyfriend were engaged in December 2010 and married in October 2012, according to her Facebook profile.
“HE DID IT! We are ENGAGED! I am marrying the love of my life. My soul mate!” she wrote on Facebook in 2010.
They have a 4-year-old son together.
“I enjoy spending time with my family, including my wonderful husband, Justin, my insanly [sic] sweet and intelligent son … and our three dogs, Madison, Quinn, and Bella. I love the FALL and traveling!” she wrote on the profile on the school’s website.
On her Facebook page, Pruett wrote, “I am going to make a difference.”
In 2012, before her wedding, she wrote on Facebook, “It is gonna be a long day for me today! But first and foremost I want to say Happy Six Year Anniversary to my wonderful fiancé Justin Pruett! It has been an amazing six years and I can not wait to walk down the aisle to you in 43 days! I love you darling.”
Sheriff Matthew Wade told the Anniston Star, She’s married and this will probably ruin that and her career. It’s sad people make these decisions.”
5. Pruett Was Released on Bail After Making Her First Court Appearance
Stephanie Henry Pruett was held in custody without bail at the Calhoun County Jail overnight, according to the sheriff’s office’s website. She appeared in court Friday and was released.
It is not clear if Pruett has hired an attorney and she could not be reached for comment.
Parent Amber Carroll told local news station WBMA-TV, “”Very revolting. It turns my stomach. With it being a female teacher there’s no difference. She’s still a predator in the same stance, she’s still a grown woman. She knew right from wrong. She knew it was wrong to hook up with a minor regardless.”
Another parent, Sharon Parris, told the news station, “I was shocked and also sad, that it happened around here. You know, you here of everything. I never thought it would happen here.”
The Alabama law that Pruett was charged with is being challenged and that could have an impact on the case. In August 2017, Morgan County judge dismissed cases against two teachers charged with engaging in a sexual act with a student, deeming the law unconstitutional. The state is appealing the ruling to the Alabama Supreme Court.
“This Court acknowledges that a disparity of power may inherently exist in a teacher/student relationship, but it clearly does not exist between every school employee and every student regardless of where the student is enrolled. By eliminating the requirement that the state show a position of authority, grooming, abuse, coercion, or lack of consent, the state criminalizes behaviors outside the state’s legitimate purpose,” Judge Glenn Thompson wrote in his ruling. “In order for justice to be served, the State must prove that a defendant/employee was actually in a position of authority over the victim/student and that the position of authority was abused to obtain consent.”
“This Court does not endeavor to absolve any wrongdoing or to excuse the Defendants,” Thompson wrote.
The age of consent in Alabama is 16, but the current law makes it illegal for a teacher or other school employee to engage in sexual conduct with a current student.