A former high school social studies teacher accused of sleeping with a student pleaded guilty in court Tuesday morning.
Nicole Barnhart, 35, admitted she had sexual relations with a 16-year-old male student at Ponderosa High School. Barnhart accepted the plea offer made by prosecutors and pleaded guilty to felony sexual assault on a child and to felony criminal attempt to commit sexual assault on a child.
In exchange for her plea, she will serve two years in prison and then a minimum of 10 years in a sex offender probation program. She will also have to register as a sex offender.
"Technically, given all of the charges, she could've served the rest of her life in prison. But this is what we offered. This is what we felt was appropriate," prosecutor Darian Vahle said.
Barnhart will be sentenced in March.
After the plea was entered in Douglas County Court Tuesday morning, Barnhart was taken away in handcuffs, sobbing.
"I don't think it's unfair. I think it's sad," said Barnhart's defense attorney, Iris Eytan.
Eytan called the sentence political, based on a system that doesn't differentiate between genders when it comes to sex offenders.
"It's a one-size-fits-all in Colorado. If you're a pedophile or if you have a very short-term relationship with an individual, it applies all the same. And it's going to ruin her life. And it's going to ruin her kids' life," Eytan said.
Barnhart, who is married, has two kids, ages 4 and 7.
She was arrested last March when an investigation revealed that she had sexual relations with the sophomore on more than one occasion, according to the Douglas County Sheriff's Department.
Friends of the boy said that he told them he had been having a sexual relationship with the teacher for at least two weeks and was text-messaging her. They said he told them that he thought the teacher was "hot" and he had a crush on her.
The victim's family had no comment in court Tuesday.
Barnhart was hired in the Douglas County School District in 1995 and had been a teacher at Ponderosa High School since August 2002.
She resigned after her arrest.
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.
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