Proposed bill outlaws high school student-professor relationships

OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. — Oklahoma lawmakers are having to tread carefully in how they will close a loophole that currently allows concurrently enrolled high school students to be in a relationship with a college professor because the current wording would also actually make it illegal for some students to have dating relationships with each other in addition to closing the loophole.

For more than twenty minutes Monday afternoon, the State Senate Public Safety Committee examined House Bill 3258 which aims to prohibit college professors from dating a concurrently enrolled high school student taking classes part-time in a high school and the rest of the time on a college campus.

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“The House author of this bill had an instance where a 35-year-old professor was found to be dating a 17-year-old high school student,” said Broken Arrow State Senator John Haste (R) told the committee, “law enforcement came back and said because of the concurrent enrollment there were some question marks there.”

Haste is the Senate sponsor of HB 3258 which was co-authored by Sand Springs State Representative Jadeen Nolan (R) in response to an incident that happened in Nolan’s district. FOX23 reached out to Nolan to get more details about the incident that sparked the legislation, but we have not heard back.

Currently, it appears the high school student-college professor relationship is legal because the student is over the age of consent, and as Haste pointed out to his colleagues, the laws that bar a teacher from dating a student in elementary, middle and high school do not extend into a college setting where more high schools students are going to get college credit while finishing up high school through concurrent enrollment.

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While all eleven members of the Senate Public Safety Committee agreed to the intent of the bill, Democrats and Republicans were concerned the current wording of the HB 3258, which was unanimously passed the Oklahoma House of Representatives, could lead to some college students being arrested if they decide to date a classmate who holds a part-time job on campus.

The current wording of HB 3258 states no concurrently enrolled student can date a school employee who is more than three years older than them. Members of the committee said they were concerned they were criminalizing the dating of teenaged college students if one was concurrently enrolled and the other was just a few years older, a student on campus, and had at least a part-time job on campus for work.

“When I was in high school, students would be hired by the local schools in the summer to mow the grass, I drove a bus,” Committee Chairman Lonnie Paxton (R-Tuttle) said.

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Paxton said the current wording of HB 3258 even risked making teenagers in high school dating unlawful if one of those teens was ever employed by a district. Paxton said it is perfectly normal for teenagers to want to date each other including possibly seeing 18 and 19 year old’s want to date someone in their early 20s who is also in school with them, and by closing the high school student-professor loophole with the current language in the bill, they are opening up students to prosecution.

“We all understand where you’re going, but we need to tighten up the language a bit so we’re not making criminals out of an actual dating relationship,” he said.

The committee voted to advance the bill 11-0 saying they supported what the authors were getting at, but they did a procedural move that took the title off the bill while Haste and presumably Nolan work to make sure the language better matches intent before it reaches the floor of the State Senate. Because the House agreed with the now problematic language some see as making some teenage dating relationships illegal, it is likely the House will have to vote in HB 3258 again once the Senate is finished with it.