Elizabeth Harbert, a 43-year-old former West Virginia teacher, was arrested and charged on Wednesday, April 24 for allegedly having a sexual relationship with a teenage student. Harbert then reportedly had four children with that teen, who is now 28-years-old.
Police say that back in 2005, Christopher Birch — who was a 13-year-old student at Bridge Street Middle School — began living with Harbert and her then-husband.
The first sexual assault allegedly happened when Birch was 14-years-old, with Harbert reportedly telling the teenage boy to consider her “70% mom and 30% girlfriend”. Harbert was 30-years-old at the time of their first alleged sexual encounter.
Following her arrest on April 24, Harbert was charged before eventually being released on $10,000.
According to reports from West Virginia authorities, Harbert has since been charged with 11 different crimes such as sexual assault, fraudulent concealment, wrongful birth, failure to report sexual crimes, and causing emotional distress.
Birch, who graduated from Wheeling Park High School in 2009, filed a civil suit on Thursday, April 4, that names the mother of his children, the Ohio County Board of Education and former Wheeling Park principal and current Ohio County Board of Education member Christine Carder as defendants.
Mark Kepple, a lawyer for Harbert, said that his client denies any allegations of misconduct.
“Ms. Harbert challenges any and all allegations which suggest she consented to a relationship with Mr. Birch when he was a student in the Ohio County School System,” a statement from Kepple reads.
Harbert is just one of many education officials to be arrested and charged for sex-related crimes in recent years.
Since the beginning of 2019 alone, a handful of teachers have been arrested on similar charges, including Beulah High School teacher Kelsie Schmidt in North Dakota, Rancocas Valley Regional High School teacher Alexandra Reiner in New Jersey, and 50-year-old Florida substitute teacher Angela Jean Stanton in Florida. Additionally, Texas teachers Meredith Null and Edna Longoria were arrested on similar charges.
As for why the number of these incidents has seemingly increased, studies suggest that smartphones are the primary reason for the spike in illicit relationships, as it allows teachers to communicate with the minors without supervision.
According to a report from the Texas Education Association, smartphones make easy for teachers to privately text and talk with students and also make it possible for teachers and students to share explicit images.
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