A former Western Heights Middle School teacher accused of "sexting" an inappropriate photo of herself to a former male student pleaded guilty Thursday in Washington County Circuit Court to one count of displaying obscene material to a minor, a misdemeanor.
Vallie Nichole Lawver, 29, was originally also charged with sexual solicitation of a minor for the incident that occurred in the summer of 2018.
Judge Andrew F. Wilkinson sentenced Lawver to one year in prison, which he noted was the maximum, but that he was suspending all of it in favor of two years of unsupervised probation. The probation is unsupervised because Lawver lives in Pennsylvania. At the time she was charged in May 2019, Lawver had an address in Gettysburg, Pa., according to court documents.
Wilkinson agreed with Deputy State's Attorney Sarah Mollett-Gaumer's request for a special condition for Lawver's probation — that she is not to have unsupervised contact with any unrelated minors.
Wilkinson told Lawver that for what she did, "inappropriate is not a strong enough word," especially for a teacher with a middle-school student. He said what she did was criminal.
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The sexting and how it came to light
Lawver sent a photo of her face and exposed breasts by Snapchat to the former student sometime between June and August 2018 while he was at his Hagerstown-area home.
Detective Anthony Fleegal with the Hagerstown Police Department, who interviewed the boy, has said the photo also included the message: “Only 1. You have to earn the rest.”
Lawver sent the photo to the former student the summer after she taught him in eighth grade.
The incident came to light the next spring.
Mollett-Gaumer said parents of other students reported the photo, which was on social media, to school officials.
The Washington County Department of Social Services received information about the incident on April 5, 2019, according to court records.
Consequences for former teacher
Wilkinson said Lawver was fortunate the young boy, now a young man, had turned out OK from all accounts. Because the young man "is on his way" in life, Wilkinson said he would "go along" with the plea deal.
Saying that he saw Lawver upset in the courtroom and knew she was upset in the hallway prior to her case being called, Wilkinson said he could tell she was "affected very deeply" and surmised "this has torpedoed your career."
Lawver was an eighth-grade math teacher before she left her job. The Washington County Board of Education approved her "separation of service" at a May 7, 2019, meeting. The effective date was listed as July 1, 2019. She worked for the school system for three years.
"I think you have served a penalty outside this courtroom," said Wilkinson, adding she would still face a penalty from the court.
Defense attorney Laura Morton, standing next to her client in the courtroom, said Lawver was "extremely remorseful and deeply regrets her actions." Morton added that, obviously, Lawver wasn't thinking clearly and made a "tremendous error in judgment."
Morton said Lawver's biggest concern after this was the effect on the boy and she was "relieved he has been able to move on from this."
Lawver accepts full responsibility for her actions and regrets the consequences they had for the boy, his family, and her family, Morton said. The defendant apologizes to the victim, his family, the community and to the court, she said.
Morton said there had been no indication Lawver "did something" previous to this incident or since then.
Mollett-Gaumer said the victim, who had shared the photo with another student, probably didn't anticipate how widely the photo would be shared and that the attention it would get wouldn't necessarily be positive.
She said the victim graduated high school and is moving on with a career. He was "desperately seeking closure" in this matter and wanted the case resolved in a way that wouldn't require his testimony, Mollett-Gaumer said.
Mollett-Gaumer noted that sentencing guidelines for displaying obscene materials to a minor is some form of probation. Sentencing guidelines for the dismissed felony count of sexual solicitation of a minor, when there is a lack of injury to the victim and a lack of criminal history for the defendant, is probation to two years, she said.
There is no evidence the victim "required therapy services or anything like that or evidence of injury or trauma," Mollett-Gaumer told the court.
This article originally appeared on The Herald-Mail: Ex-Washington County teacher gets probation in sexting case