A 25-year-old former Maryland high school teacher has pleaded guilty to three counts of fourth-degree sex offense against one of her 16-year-old students.
Ekatherine Pappas, who was a Spanish teacher at Franklin High School in Reisterstow, was sentenced June 29 in Baltimore County Circuit Court to three years in prison, and suspended all but one year and one day of it, after police found disturbing video of her engaged in sex acts with a special education student.
She was also sentenced to five years of supervised probation upon her release and she must register as a sex offender for 15 years.
She was taken into custody the same day she was sentenced.
“She had been warned not to have an inappropriate relationship with him,” Baltimore county assistant state attorney Perry Wasserman tells PEOPLE. “He was receiving special education services and she took him off the [school] property twice, and that makes it all the more egregious. He was in her care and custody and she so grossly abused that role. I thought the sentence reflected that.”
Police learned of the case on January 5 after the school’s resource officer became aware of a “rumor circulating around the school about a video depicting a student and teacher engaged in sexual acts,” according to charging documents obtained by PEOPLE.
The video, the police learned, was sent by the victim to a friend.
“It went viral,” says Wasserman. “The video was so widely distributed that kids at other schools were getting it. Parents were getting it and we became aware that parents had to have less-than-comfortable conversations with their children because this video was going around. It really had an affect beyond that student and that school.”
During a police interview, the student said Pappas asked him to leave the school during school hours on two occasions in December 2016. She drove with him to the victim’s house where the sexual misconduct occurred. On the second day, Wasserman says the student videotaped the encounter on his phone.
Wasserman says school officials became aware of the video on the first day back from winter break. That same day, Pappas, who had been employed at the school for less than a month, resigned.
“That same day when the video was going around she went to the office in the morning and said she had to resign,” he says. “She appeared upset and crying and said something about having to visit her grandmother who was dying in Greece.”
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Wasserman says Pappas didn’t go to Greece but instead went to Dulles International Airport and flew to Bogota, Colombia.
“Initially her flight manifest had her coming back May 1 and at some point she changed that ticket and came back on the 24th of January and we already had a warrant for her so she was arrested at the airport,” he says.
‘Extremely Confusing’ Ordeal, Says Victim’s Dad
In a statement to the court, the victim’s father said the Pappas’ misconduct “has affected my son and our family in devastating and profound ways.”
“As a young man, this entire ordeal has been extremely confusing for him, just as it would be for any victim that is exposed to sexual activity before they are at a level of maturity,” he wrote. “Our home is no longer viewed as a safe environment, since it is the location where the assault took place. My son will continue to require counseling to deal with the emotions of this ordeal.”
“The unspoken role of an educator is to protect, lead and influence in a positive manner and this has not been the case,” he continued. “There are no clear cut winners here but at the end of the day, I forgive you and pray for peace within your heart and for your family. We all have healing that needs to transpire.”
Pappas’ defense attorney, Craig M. Kadish, tells PEOPLE his client didn’t know she had broken any laws and didn’t receive proper training at the school. “She had never been given a training manual, a do’s or don’t book,” he says. “She said, ‘I was never given any of those things had I been told it I certainly wouldn’t have done it.’ ”
“Anyone but a school teacher would get no jail time,” he adds. “There is a statute that says a teacher is treated differently. They are custodians. They are treated differently. It was the simple fact she was a teacher. This is someone who was locked up to make an example of. For deterrent value. The only reason she was incarcerated was to deter other teachers from even thinking about it. “