Judge Eugene Lerner has sent Ronald Walter Price to jail for 26 years for having sexual relationships with his high school students. Though many feel he should have received the maximum 54 years, sentencing guidelines for this case recommended only 12 years, and it is a fact that murderers and rapists have escaped with less than Price. This is a harsh sentence.
It is also a fair sentence, obviously tailored to send a message about how seriously our society values the covenant of trust that teachers are supposed to hold with parents and students.
Price's lawyers and his therapists probably are right when they say the former Northeast High School teacher poses no threat as long as he is kept away from young people. His doctors say he is treatable, and certainly society has an interest in seeing that he gets help.
Nevertheless, there are powerful reasons why this sentence is justified. Price's lack of remorse is key. In the end, he stood before the court, weeping and saying he was sorry. Yet for the last seven months he has told his story to everyone from local newspapers to "Geraldo!" and has never taken responsibility. He blamed the school system for letting him get away with it (which it did, but that doesn't absolve him). He blamed parents. Worst of all, he blamed the victims, saying they looked and acted like adults when they consented, so they must be responsible, too.
What Price has never understood is that the victims' maturity and values are irrelevant. The issue is his responsibility to respect the boundaries that separate teachers and students, and to uphold the covenant with parents. As one of Price's own therapists acknowledged, "Parents do not sent children to school to have sex with their teachers."
Such an idea used to be unthinkable. Now parents are distrustful and frightened. Price is directly responsible for this damage, and he deserved to be punished for it.
In the uproar spawned by this case, it has become apparent Price isn't the only teacher for whom the boundaries have become unclear. Another Arundel teacher was arrested yesterday. Some Arundel teachers said they were unaware until recently that having a sexual relationship with an older student is wrong. The courts would have been contributing to that faulty mindset if it had let Price escape with a half-hearted punishment, by saying, in essence, that what he did was not so bad.
Instead, Judge Lerner expressed outrage at this violation of trust "as a teacher, as a coach, as a mentor, as a friend." His sentence is a message that no teacher in this state can ignore.