Female Teacher Sentenced To Prison For Affair With Student

Nicole Barnhart Will Spend Two Years In Prison

A former social studies teacher at Ponderosa High School in Parker was sentenced to two years in prison and 10 years in a sexual offender probation program for having an affair with a teenage student.

Nicole Barnhart, 36, will also have to register as a sex offender for the rest of her life and pay $1,750 in fines.

Barnhart pleaded guilty in January to felony charges of sexual assault on a child and criminal attempt to commit sexual assault on a child. The married mother of two children acknowledged carrying on a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old boy.

In court on Friday, Barnhart cried, and said she let her students and her family down by her actions. She apologized and said she regrets what she did.

"I apologize to the victim and his family. I apologize for my failure to my husband and my kids. My failure will haunt me for the rest of my life," she said.

"There's no question she expresses some serious remorse about what happened and how it happened. Obviously, like anybody who gets themselves in a situation, if she could take it back she would. She's not proud of this," said Barnhart's attorney, Iris Eaton.

However, prosecutors argued that it was not a one-time lapse in judgment. They said she had sex with her U.S. history student four times over a five-day period.

Prosecutors said she had asked her student to move a couch in class and when he did, she rewarded him with a dinner at her home on a night that her husband was not home.

She would also allow him to "monitor" her class, instead of going to his other classes, and then would go into the school's computer system to change his "unexcused" absences for his other classes to "excused," prosecutors said. This was "a sign of grooming" -- a signal of sex abuse, prosecutors said.

The lawyer for the victim said that "this was not a high-five event -- a cool thing to do."

"This young man is really depressed, overwrought with guilt, trying to mend his own life, life with his family and his siblings. And it's been a terribly, terribly, destructive event for him," said the victim's attorney, David Sabitz.

Sabitz said the teen has battled suicidal thoughts. Sabitz said schools should be more vigilant about monitoring student-teacher relationships.

At Barnhart's sentencing hearing, about 40 people showed up to ask the judge to accept the plea deal, saying Barnhart is a good teacher, a good person, and a good mom. Her kids are 4 and 8, and the judge on Friday allowed her to continue seeing her kids while she serves her sentence.

Barnhart's husband supports her and was in the courtroom on Friday.

"I think that does say a lot about what kind of human being Nicole Barnhart is and I don't think this incident defines who she is," said Eaton.

The judge accepted the plea deal but was very stern when handing down his sentence. He said that parents everywhere turn over their children to teachers and put a tremendous amount of trust in them.

"You were the adult. You're the teacher. You're the responsible one. And yet you had sex with this young man a handful of times within a week. No teacher goes down that road," said Judge Paul King.

Both sides were glad that the plea was accepted and that there was no trial, since that would be difficult on the victim and his family. Barnhart will get credit for time served -- the 83 days she's already spent in prison.

Barnhart was evaluated by a psychologist and deemed a very "low risk" to reoffend but will serve 10 years of highly supervised probation.

Had she gone to trial and been convicted, Barnhart faced a mandatory sentence of 20 years to life in prison. Prosecutors said that they spoke with the victim, his family, and other high school students and teachers before agreeing to the plea deal.

"I've spoken with parents of high school students. I've spoken with other high school teachers and other teachers in this district. And nearly unanimously, what we got was that she needs to do some time in jail," said senior deputy district attorney Darren Vahle.

When Douglas County deputies arrested Barnhart on March 23 of last year, she initially denied it but then only thought of herself, saying that the case would ruin her career, prosecutors said. She resigned from her teaching post a short time later.

Barnhart was hired in the Douglas County School District in 1995 and had been a teacher at Ponderosa High School since August 2002.

Douglas County Schools responded to this incident by having a law firm remind administrators about the legal ramifications and the do's and don'ts of staff-student relationships.

Friends of the teen say that the sophomore had a crush on his teacher, whom he thought was "hot." Friends said that the teen told them he had been having a sexual relationship with the teacher for at least two weeks and was text-messaging her and writing her notes all the time.

Previous Stories: