A female science teacher has been spared jail over sex with a 16-year-old boy pupil after they swapped flirty messages and sexual photos for months while she waited for him to turn the legal age.
Shannon Parsons and the teenager exchanged a series of messages over the phone until he turned 16, at which point they slept together at his family home while his parents were at work.
Their relationship came to light after parents of another pupil at the state secondary school in Gravesham, Kent, raised their concerns, although no wrongdoing was found in respect of that child.
Parsons, of Welling, south east London, described as ‘well-respected and highly regarded’ by colleagues, told police she never thought of the teenager as a child, did not love him and it was ‘purely sexual’.
But she added she knew it was wrong and should have ended it, Maidstone Crown Court was told.
Parsons, 33, pleaded guilty to abuse of a position of trust by causing or inciting sexual activity with a child.
She sobbed in the dock however as Judge Philip Statman said exceptional circumstances, including her previous good character, genuine remorse, the impact of custody on her young daughter, and the extensive delay in court proceedings, enabled him to impose a sentence of 12 months’ imprisonment suspended for two years.
But he told the redhead that although she and the boy had had consensual sex, her behaviour had involved ‘significant planning and an element of grooming’.
Shannon Parsons and the teenager exchanged a series of messages over the phone until he turned 16, at which point they slept together at his family home while his parents were at work
Judge Statman said: ‘You were the adult, he was the student, you were in your 30s, he was 16, and you had a responsibility pursuant to your profession to behave in an appropriate manner towards him.
‘You failed to comply with that which was required of you. It was one thing to have an interest in the education of a student and help a student to do his very best.
‘But you crossed the important boundary and you fractured the relationship between student and teacher.
‘The abuse of that position of trust highlights just how serious this type of criminality is.’
The court heard Parsons had been working at the school for three years when the sexual intercourse, said to be a ‘one-off incident’ occurred in 2018.
Prosecutor Vivian Walters said she was considered a good teacher and had been given the extra responsibility of being a ‘learning conversation leader’.
But when parents of another student raised concerns with the school, it led to fellow pupils revealing she had had sex with the 16-year-old.
During his subsequent interview with police he told officers they ‘got on well’ and he had emailed her asking her to text him.
Ignoring the school’s safeguarding policy, she then used her personal mobile phone to message him back.
Miss Walters told the court their conversations were initially about ‘school stuff’ and home life but then ‘turned into flirting’.
‘He said he would then see her at lunchtimes and once he was 16 the conversations started being more about sex,’ she said.
‘He said she would message him constantly, they had exchanged sexual photographs of themselves and arranged to meet for sex.’
The teenager told police he ‘always felt a bit weird’ about their conversations and would therefore cut them short.
He added that he would also make excuses about being busy because although at times he was ‘up for it’, the fact of who she was ‘put him off’.
But the court heard intercourse took place one afternoon at his home while his parents were at work.
Miss Walters said: ‘They had started kissing and then had sex. He was 16. He said that after they had had sex he felt awkward. He didn’t talk to her and ignored her on Instagram.
Parsons, 33, pleaded guilty to abuse of a position of trust by causing or inciting sexual activity with a child
‘She tried to talk to him on exam results day….but he said he couldn’t be bothered. He also said he told a couple of mates (what had happened) which was how it got spread around.
‘He said it affected him quite badly because ‘everyone was talking about it’.’
Parsons was arrested, immediately confessed, and resigned from her job.
She told police the boy was 15 when they first began communicating on her phone and via social media.
‘She said she wanted to help him get a good grade. When he emailed her she had been worried about him and sent him a text from her personal phone which is how he got her number,’ the prosecutor told the court.
‘She said she knew that wasn’t allowed. At some stage he said he was attracted to her. She said she knew she should have ended it and she knew it was wrong.’
The court heard that when a false rumour they had already had sex began to spread around the school she told the student to ‘deal with it’, fearing she would lose her job.
‘She was determined not to meet up with him until he was over 16 but they messaged and talked about having sex,’ said Miss Walters.
‘She said they exchanged intimate photographs but she said she hadn’t solicited them. She said she thought he was 15 (at that time).
‘She said she wasn’t in love with him, it was purely sexual and she never thought of him as a child.
‘She agreed it was not okay to do what she did but felt he wanted it to happen.’
Although interviewed by police, the court was told the boy did not want to provide a victim personal statement.
His father said however that his son’s general behaviour had not been ‘negatively affected’, although he had experienced some bullying as a result.
Simon Connolly, defending, said Parsons had admitted her guilt ‘unreservedly’ and made no attempt to either avoid responsibility or blame others.
She was also said to be suffering from mental health issues at the time and has since been diagnosed with what is known as a stress-related adjustment disorder.
‘It was a single incident, there was no attempt to repeat it and was followed immediately by regret,’ Mr Connolly told the court.
‘She has lost a job she worked hard to achieve and dearly loved. Of course, that is her own fault but that in itself is a punishment for her.’
Mr Connolly added that immediate custody was unnecessary and ‘marginally’ not in the public interest.
The court heard it took two years for Parsons to be charged, despite her full confession, with the CPS having to repeatedly chase Kent Police to complete the case file.
Judge Statman criticised the delay as ‘inexcusable and completely unacceptable’, and said it had created ‘a very real difficulty’ in deciding the appropriate punishment.
As part of her sentence, Parsons must undertake 40 days of a rehabilitation activity requirement. She was also made subject to a sexual harm prevention order for five years and must sign on the sex offenders’ register for 10 years.
She will also be barred from working with children and vulnerable adults.
The court heard that although she still lives with her daughter’s father, their relationship was coming to an end at the time of the offence.