Advocate Editorial Board opinion:
In October 2012, a startling story surfaced in Victoria. Jesse Earl Holmes, an athletic trainer at Victoria East High School, was accused of having sex with a 15-year-old student.
After an investigation, the teacher was indicted and brought to trial, where he pleaded guilty to two counts of sexual assault of a child. On Feb. 13, he was sentenced to 15 years in prison. In addition, he is charged with inappropriate relations with a student in a second case that has not yet gone to trial.
This was a horrifying realization. Schools are meant to be safe places staffed by individuals who are trustworthy and capable of behaving properly when dealing with children - especially those children who are on the cusp of adulthood. There is no question, the teenage years are a difficult time. Hormones are flowing, bodies are changing, and people who used to be children are trying to establish an adult identity and sense of maturity. As horrible as it is, we know this is a vulnerable time that a predator could and did take advantage of. What we have trouble comprehending is the reaction some members of the community expressed as this unfolded.
From the very beginning, online reactions to this investigation were abundant and conflicting. Some pointed blame where it rightly belongs - at the trainer who chose to take advantage of a vulnerable girl. Others tried to lay blame on the victim while still others say the blame should be shared between both Holmes and the student.
We are disturbed to see such reactions from the public. The responsibility for this falls squarely on the shoulders of a man who was supposed to behave as an adult. Instead, he chose to cultivate an improper relationship with a student. The adults who work in our schools are tasked with an important responsibility and must be able to react appropriately to any situation.
By choosing to pursue an inappropriate relationship, Holmes has damaged the life of at least one student, the district, the trust of the community and himself. Whether it was consensual or not, the student is not at an age when she can fully comprehend what consequences her actions could have. At the age of 15, she would still be working to determine her own identity and course in life.
We applaud the district for its quick and decisive action when this incident was revealed. Instead of trying to sweep this under the rug or trying to save face, the district chose to assist in the investigation and condemn Holmes' actions. During the sentencing phase of the trial, Superintendent Robert Jaklich took the stand and called Holmes' actions "totally unacceptable." The district's decision to acknowledge this incident and to quickly and clearly condemn these actions gives us even more respect for the district and its leadership.
In any situation involving student-teacher relationships, there should always be a clear expectation on what is appropriate behavior consistent with establishing trust in the classroom and encouraging learning. When the relationship shifts to outside the classroom, adults must be responsible and mature enough to know and act on what is appropriate. We are saddened to know one man's lack of morals has negatively impacted so many in our community. We hope community members will remember where the true responsibility in this situation lies - with the man who chose to manipulate and take advantage of a vulnerable girl.
Above all, we are glad that this situation has come to light and that Holmes has admitted to what he has done. We wish his victim the best as she and her family move forward and work to recover from this incident.
This editorial reflects the views of the Victoria Advocate's editorial board.