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Unwanted lesson: Oklahoma teacher faces charges of sex with student

A former Hollis, Oklahoma, teacher is the latest to be accused of inappropriate sexual contact with a student.
by Jennifer Palmer Modified: August 17, 2014 at 10:00 pm •  Published: August 17, 2014
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Oklahoma investigators already were looking into allegations that teacher Jennifer Sexton was having sex with one of her students when she resigned from Hollis Middle School in April.

On June 18 — 650 miles away in Olive Branch, Miss. — the 28-year-old English teacher was arrested on suspicion of statutory rape and contributing to the delinquency of a minor after police found her and the student, a 15-year-old boy, in a Best Western hotel room. The boy was on summer break visiting his mother when he hopped the fence of a church parking lot, where Sexton waited in her sport utility vehicle.

Sexton’s Mississippi arrest led Oklahoma prosecutors to re-evaluate the earlier allegations. On Thursday, Sexton was charged in Harmon County District Court with three counts of second-degree rape, two counts of enticing a child, and one count of forcible sodomy. On Friday morning, she turned herself in at the Harmon County jail and was released later in the day after posting $100,000 bail.

Before the Mississippi arrest, the only evidence Harmon County Assistant District Attorney Eric Yarborough said he had against Sexton was people’s suspicions.

“Things that raised kind of an eyebrow. People seeing a teacher alone with a child may or may not be anything. It could just be innocent contact,” Yarborough said. “The child said nothing’s going on, she’s just a nice teacher.”

After Mississippi, the case changed. The boy, whose identity is being withheld because he is a victim of sexual abuse, spoke to investigators with consent from a parent, court records show.

The student described how, three days before she quit her teaching job, Sexton had sex with him in the back of her classroom. In the weeks that followed, Sexton picked up the student numerous times in her SUV and drove to a secluded area. They had sex in her car, her house and the home of his father — a pastor.

During the same time period, Sexton filed for divorce from her husband. On May 13, a Harmon County judge granted the divorce and a name change. As of June 1, Sexton’s name was restored to Jennifer Caswell, her maiden name.

The Oklahoman could not locate a working phone number for Caswell. Her attorney could not be reached for comment Friday.

Another case

In nearby Tillman County, authorities recently charged another teacher with three counts of second-degree rape involving a student. Laura Cowan, who started teaching in 2010 and most recently worked at Tipton Public Schools, resigned April 15.

Cowan, 34, was arrested and charged July 23. She has since been released on a $150,000 bond. Investigators say she admitted to having sex with two of her Tipton High School students in various locations, including in her classroom, in her car and in a motel room in Frederick. Cowan could not be reached. Her attorney declined comment.

Social media exploited

Nationally, since Jan. 1 there have been at least 275 teachers arrested for sexual offenses or child pornography, according to S.E.S.A.M.E. (Stop Educator Sexual Abuse Misconduct & Exploitation), a Las Vegas-based organization that works to prevent the sexual exploitation, abuse, and harassment of students by teachers and other school staff.

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by Jennifer Palmer
Investigative Reporter
Jennifer Palmer joined The Oklahoman staff in 2008 and, after five years on the business desk, is now digging deeper through investigative work. She's been recognized with awards in public service reporting and personal column writing. Prior to...
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