Are Tennessee Schools Covering Up for Child Predators?
Students say "It's been happening for years"
Chase Matheson - April 17, 2023
BENTON COUNTY, TN -- Are High School Teachers routinely sleeping with their students in Benton County? Are these cases being brushed off by the local administration? You may remember that in February WSMV reported that a Benton County educator had been accused of inappropriate conduct with a student. The story didn't say much else, other than quoting the school by saying the teacher had been suspended and that the local authorities were investigating. The story didn't jive with what our sources were telling us, so the Patriot Punk Network put boots on the ground and started digging.
Through our investigation we learned the alleged identity of the female teacher acussed of the inappropriate conduct. We learned the student alleged to be involved was of legal age when the scandal came to light, and that the educator had been named online in some of the largest social media groups in the county. These posts had amassed hundreds of comments, and it was safe to say the cat was unofficially out of the bag.
Next we spoke to several sources, both students and staff. The sources we spoke to will not be named to protect them from any retaliation. We were able to confirmed the teacher named in the social media posts had not been present at school since the story broke. A staff member from Benton County Schools also claimed that the substitute teacher standing in for this accused educator had been asked to teach for the remainder of the school year. These statements allowed us to breath a sigh of relief, albeit a very temporary one. What the students said next really drew our ire.
"The sad part is, it's very common to hear of teacher-student relations," one student told the Patriot Punk Network. "I've heard several girls my age and male teachers.... female teachers with boys," they continued.
The students also expressed concern that the teacher exposed in February may be allowed to come back to teaching. "I doubt she will at this school," one male student told us, "it will probably be a different school."
"That's how they do it," another chimed in.
The high schoolers spoke of pictures shown around locker rooms, and even acknowledged that it's widely believed the relationship began before the student was 18. The students also said that the proof could likely be found on students' phones.
Next, the Patriot Punk Network looked up the teachers salary on the GovSalaries website where we found 4 years worth of pay scales. We also confirmed the teacher is still listed in the schools staff directory. However, when we attempted to open records request teachers employment file, the school claimed that "no records were responsive to our request."
Confused, we called 2 separate school board members to ask how that would be possible. Both told us that all teachers should have a file that includes basic employment information such as their employment contract, coaching agreements if they coach and other basic things, even if they don't have a disciplinary record. They also informed us that some information could be considered private and would not be subject to the Open Records Act, but the reason for denial should cite the exception to the TCA code.
Armed with new information we attempted to clarify the issue with Director of Benton County Schools Mark Florence in a follow up email. In order to avoid confusion, I also asked him if the teacher was currently in good standing with the school. Not only did Director Florence fail to acknowledge our concern with the absence of the pedagogue's employment file, he also used past tense when answering if the individual was in good standing. "The teacher has been in good standing with the school system."
When pressed once again for clarification Director Florence sent us a press release dated February 13, 2023 and told us the "situation had not changed." He failed to clarify any of our concerns, and still has not produced any employment files per our Open Records request.
Has this happened before?
A quick Google search yielded a story from 2022 where another former Benton County Coach turned Youth Pastor pleaded guilty to possession of child porn and transporting a minor across state lines for sex.
Joshua Henley, 34, Coached girls basketball in an Elementary School in Benton County from 2017 through 2021. This makes you wonder if his career as a child predator began in Benton County schools. It also begs you ask, did it hapepn and just go unnoticed, or was it swept under the rug? Could that be why that individual relocated? That might be a question we never get the answer to, but it raises a more important question. What can be done to prevent it in the future? The answer--speak up.
It's important to understand that in Tennessee once an individual is 18, they are old enough to consent to sex--even if it's with a teacher twice their age, even if the child had been groomed by the teacher in advance to make the student more open to the inappropriate conduct. If the relationship began prior to the student turning 18, then it could be a much more serious offense. Although the rumor is that the relationship began prior to the student turning 18, no hard evidence has been turned over to authorities confirming this.
If you're a student, teacher, spouse, or parent with information relating to this case (or any allegations of student-teacher relations) we want to hear from you so that the parents of Benton County can rest assured their children and students are not being permanently scarred by authority figures who just score, and that the individuals preying on children are not able to escalate their behavior. We also strongly encourage you to contact your law enforcement office and thoroughly document the experience.
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