By Colleen Smith Armstrong
Every so often, our county pursues a criminal case that rocks our tiny communities.
After an investigation by the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office and an outside investigator retained by the Orcas Island School District, science teacher Dr. Gerald Grellet-Tinner, 59, was charged with two counts of sexual misconduct with a minor, which is a felony.
The alleged sexual encounters occurred with one of his students who attended Orcas Island High School. Sheriff Ron Krebs explained that although the student was 18 years old, the two had a teacher-student relationship. If the student had been under 18, the charge would be rape of a child. For more on this story see page 4.
We received some heated feedback from the community regarding this case.
Some argued that the student is an adult and gave consent. Others thought that the teacher’s age is relevant: if he was in early 20s it makes it less wrong. While others took a stronger approach: “He should definitely lose his career if this turns out to be true … You do NOT cross that line with students. Not only is it a federal crime it is a massive breach of trust.” And: “He is in a position of authority. There is no way to know if she felt pressured with improving grades, or what.”
So I thought we should explore this issue a little deeper.
San Juan County Prosecuting Attorney Randy Gaylord says the state legislature changed the age of a minor if that person is a student of a teacher to age 21 – not age 18.
Why was this changed? Because teachers are entrusted to interact with students using the highest level of integrity.
“The legislature saw fit to criminalize sex between school employees and high school students – even those who reach the age of majority (referring to when a young person reaches the age where one is considered to be an adult) while registered as students. It is a policy choice that recognizes the special position of trust and authority teachers hold over their students,” according to the state court case that decided the statute.
Teachers follow students through incredibly important stages of development.
Educators are with kids from six to eight hours a day, five days a week. They are some of the influential people in a child’s life. To use their power and influence to start a sexual relationship is deeply inappropriate.
The issue of “consent” doesn’t even apply in this case. The teacher used his power as an educator to start an alleged sexual relationship with a student. Because of that status, a teacher unequivocally cannot have romantic or sexual relationships with students.
As this local case illustrates, the victim says the teacher told her it was “dangerous” but proceeded anyway.
We think teachers who form romantic relationships with students are predators.
And the law agrees.