While serving as a special- education teacher, Eric R. Kline had two sexual encounters with a 16-year-old female student with a learning disability. Shockingly, the sexual predator received a tap on the wrist from Judge Ronald Rice of the Trumbull County Common Pleas Court.
Kline should have been sentenced to more than 18 months in prison. He used his position of power and authority to prey on a defenseless child. Yes, a 16-year-old is still a child.
Indeed, that age barely misses the standard for statutory rape. It is illegal for an adult – 18 or older – to have sex with a minor – younger than 16 – even if the sex is consensual.
In Kline’s case, a jury found the former Warren G. Harding High School teacher and Newton Falls resident guilty of sexual battery. Charges were filed after the female student said she and the special-education teacher engaged in sexual conduct while alone in his classroom in March 2018. She was one of his students.
But Judge Rice has exacerbated the egregiousness of Kline’s original sentence of 18 months with his latest decision. The veteran jurist decided last week that Kline is worthy of early release – after just seven months behind bars.
Indeed, the condition set by Judge Rice for granting the former teacher’s request is as puzzling as the original sentence.
While noting that Kline had “accepted responsibility for the crime” in a letter to him, Judge Rice wants the convict to write a letter of at least 250 words to both the victim and a witness in the case apologizing to both of them. The judge will get a copy of those letters.
Judge Rice said if he’s not satisfied with the letters, Kline will be returned for a new hearing on a probation violation and probably be “headed back to prison.”
He said the ex-teacher owed the student and the witness apologies because he “called both of them liars at trial.”
Yet, Judge Rice believes he’s worthy of a break on his sentence.
It is noteworthy that Trumbull County Assistant Prosecutor Diane Barber opposes Kline’s early release.
Barber noted that the special-education teacher initiated the criminal conduct by asking the 16-year-old girl to meet him in the hallway. The two of them then went into the empty classroom.
The assistant prosecutor said Kline “took advantage of a student with a learning disability and abused his position of authority” by his actions.
Kline has to register as a sex offender and can never again work as a teacher.
During the trial, Harding’s principal, Dante Capers, testified that Kline had his own classroom on the high school’s third floor, but most of his duties involved co-teaching with a social studies teacher.
Capers described Kline as an intervention specialist, meaning he ensured that special-needs students received the education they required.
The principal first learned of the allegations when a female student reported to a guidance counselor she had seen Kline and a female student alone in the teacher’s classroom.
Capers was able to confirm the details of the encounter after watching a surveillance video from the hallway near the classroom.
School officials went looking for the girl involved and found her alone with Kline in the classroom while she was supposed to be in gym class.
During his sentencing, Kline told Judge Rice he “never wanted to hurt anyone,” but the judge pointed out that a sacred trust between student and teacher had been broken.
It is important to remember that the teacher preyed on a 16-year-old with a learning disability.
The girl’s mother made this statement to the judge: “Since this happened, I’ve seen a lot of changes in her.” The student had gone to the Trumbull County Courthouse to speak at the sentencing, but could not go through with it.
Her mother delivered a message to the judge from her daughter:
“Tell him it’s hard going through what I’m going through.”
The sexual predator said he has lived with an “overwhelming amount of regret” over his improper conduct.
Warren police officer Mike Currington, a school resource officer, testified the victim told him she and Kline engaged in two sex acts in the teacher’s classroom.
We aren’t sure why Judge Rice saw the need to give such an individual a break. Seven months in prison hardly begins to meet the level of punishment that’s appropriate for such a dastardly act.
We would urge the judge to revisit his decision to release Kline early.