A former Mayflower educator must register as a sex offender and serve 10 years of felony probation after admitting to having sexual intercourse with a 17-year-old student in May 2018.
Jessica Lee Kaplan, 33, initially pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree sexual assault in August 2019.
Following her guilty plea, the court conducted a pre-sentencing investigation and also held a sentencing hearing Friday morning in Faulkner County Circuit Court.
Because she has pleaded guilty to a sexual offense, the Arkansas Crime Information Center Sex Offender Registry manager said Kaplan must register as a sex offender. The extent to public notification regarding Kaplan’s charges is unknown at this point. Public sex offender notifications are done so based on the risk level they are associated with. However, she will be listed on the state’s sex offender registry.
According to the sex offender registry manager, Kaplan will have to register as a sex offender for 15 years.
Kaplan’s counselor and a close friend testified on her behalf during the sentencing hearing.
Candice McAlister, who is Kaplan’s counselor, said she has seen the former Mayflower art instructor 48 times since her arrest.
Kaplan reached out for help on May 18, 2018, and attended her first counseling session on May 21, 2018.
At the time, Kaplan said she felt “her life was falling apart” due to the grief of her brother’s death, stress from work and issues with her marriage, McAlister testified, pointing out the fact that Kaplan sought treatment “on her own.”
“She owned up to it immediately (and has) accepted the loss of her career,” McAlister said.
Sandra Leiterman, a math specialist at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, said she has noticed a “tremendous difference” in Kaplan since the 33-year-old began attending counseling sessions.
The two met while working at Fuller Middle School in Little Rock. Leiterman taught maths and Kaplan was an art instructor. While at FMS, Leiterman said she took the initiative to begin after-school programs to help the children develop “a sense of belonging.”
When she proposed the idea in a work meeting, Kaplan was the first to step forward and offer help, Leiterman said.
Through the years, she had grown close to Kaplan.
Leiterman said she knew it was rough on Kaplan when her brother overdosed and died and that she watched her struggle mentally for a while before the incidents leading up to her charges occurred.
After having intercourse with a student two times, Kaplan reached out to Leiterman.
“While she was at my kitchen table, they issued a warrant for her arrest and took her to jail not knowing half the story,” Leiterman said with tears in her eyes Friday morning.
The Mayflower Police Department launched its investigation against Kaplan after a parent filed a complaint against the art teacher on May 14, 2018.
The parent filed a complaint after learning his 17-year-old son “had been engaged in an inappropriate relationship with one of his teachers,” according to the felony probable cause affidavit filed against Kaplan.
The first encounter occurred in her classroom on May 6, 2018, according to a statement she gave to Mayflower police.
In her statement, she told police that she and the victim “became intimate in the classroom and moved to the classroom closet to engage in sex” on May 6, 2018. The second sexual encounter Kaplan reportedly had with her student occurred May 8, 2018 while she was giving him a ride home from a band concert.
“Mrs. Jessica L. Kaplan admitted to a second encounter with (the juvenile) that took place in her car after a band concert at the Mayflower Middle School,” the probable cause affidavit reads in part. “(Kaplan) said after the concert she was giving (the 17-year-old) a ride home and took a detour, stopping on a random road to have sex with him.”While the student she was sexually involved with was of the age of consent, prosecutors moved to file criminal charges against her because Arkansas Code § 5-14-124 states that any person of trust or authority over a minor accused of having “sexual intercourse or deviate sexual activity” with the underage victim is guilty of first-degree sexual assault.
Arkansas law also states that an accused subject is guilty of first-degree sexual assault if they are an employee at the victim’s school or school district or a temporary caretaker of the alleged victim.
“It is no defense to a prosecution under this section that the victim consented to the conduct,” according to Arkansas law.
Kaplan also took to the stand Friday morning and apologized for her actions.
Prior to seeking counseling, Kaplan said she would bottle her emotions and “isolate” herself. She said she feels she is in a better place emotionally now.
Though she can never be a teacher again, Kaplan has found a new career as a tattoo artist in Little Rock.
Defense attorney Toney Baker Brasuell requested his client be sentenced to probation over prison time because of her initiative to better herself.
“She’s never going to be a teacher again, and that’s her own fault,” he said, adding that Kaplan “took the path that’s harder (and) recognizes that her actions were wrong.”
Circuit Judge Charles “Ed” Clawson weighed the evidence and testimony for a few minutes before ordering Kaplan to serve 10 years on felony probation.
Kaplan should have sought counseling prior to the May 2018 crimes instead of taking advantage of a student who was “available,” Clawson said.
The circuit judge also said he found it troubling that Kaplan betrayed the trust the parents of Mayflower students had for her.
Along with serving 10 years of felony probation and registering as a sex offender, Clawson ordered Kaplan to pay a $5,000 fine and issued a no contact order against Kaplan, barring her from communicating with the victim in the case.
Staff writer Marisa Hicks can be reached at email@example.com.