Saltillo teacher faces sexual battery charges

A Saltillo High School teacher was arrested Tuesday for allegedly having a sexual relationship with her 16-year-old student.
Hope Johns, a 31-year-old English 1 teacher, was arrested after investigators interviewed the student and other people. She was charged with one count of sexual battery, with further charges pending. Johns posted $25,000 bond and was released from the Lee County jail Tuesday night.
Lee County Sheriff Jim Johnson said Johns tutored the student at her home, which is where the incidents allegedly occurred. None occurred at school, he said.
Johns was suspended from the classroom last week because she had sent an improper text message to the student. Teachers aren’t allowed to text students for non-student-related matters. However, the school cannot yet dismiss her because she has requested a hearing.
By law, that hearing must take place no sooner than five days and no more than 30 days from when it was requested. Johns made the request on Oct. 10.
At its regular school board meeting Tuesday, the Lee County School Board voted to have that hearing decided by a hearing officer rather than by the board.
For the sexual battery charges, the age of consent in Mississippi varies depending on the age of those involved. The student is 16 but can consent to sex only with someone his own age or someone who is no more than 36 months older than he is.
Johnson says that because Johns was a person of trust, in this case a teacher, the age of consent becomes 18.
Johns’ conduct came into question last week when her cell phone was turned over to the sheriff’s department because of some text messages that were allegedly sent to the student’s phone, according to Johnson.
“Superintendent Mike Scott asked us to look into the matter last week and that’s when we got the cell phone,” said Johnson. “After some investigating we believe there were sexual acts between Johns and the student. The same student involved in the text messaging was being tutored at her home.”
Scott said that it is against district policy for teachers to tutor students in the teacher’s home.
If the district arranges for a student to be tutored, that tutoring will take place either at the school or at the student’s house, Scott said.
That does not include tutoring made through special arrangements between parents and teachers.
Neither Saltillo Principal Tim Devaughn nor Scott would comment on the investigation.
Johns is the second Saltillo High School faculty member to be disciplined for texting.
Tim Ferguson, an assistant band director at the school, resigned earlier this year because of improper text messages to a student at the school.
According to Lee County School District policy, non-school-related communications such as e-mails, telephone calls and text messages between a teacher and a student are grounds for dismissal.

Contact Danza Johnson at (662) 678-1583 or danza.johnson@djournal.com. Chris Kieffer contributed to this story.

Danza Johnson and Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal