Ex-WVW Teacher Sentenced To Jail Time For Sex With Students
Lauren Harrington-Cooper walked into the courtroom a free woman. She left in shackles with orders to register as a sex offender.
The former Wyoming Valley West School District teacher pleaded guilty on Thursday to two felony counts of sexual contact with students and two counts of corrupting minors and was immediately sentenced to nine to 23 months in prison.
The sentence reflects the wishes of Harrington-Cooper’s four victims, who simply want to move on with their lives, Assistant District Attorney Jenny Roberts said.
“The defendant was in a position of authority with these students and she took advantage of that,” Roberts said. “They’re just happy to move on with their lives.”
Harrington-Cooper was first arrested in December on charges she had sex with an 18-year-old student. The next month, investigators charged her with sending explicit text messages and performing oral sex on a 17-year-old boy.
She was also charged with two counts of corruption of minors for having “sexually explicit conversations” with two other boys, aged 16 and 17. Prosecutors said she showed one of the boys her breasts and had sexual contact with the other.
While school officials maintained they had no evidence of inappropriate contact taking place at school, police allege she was involved in misconduct in the classroom, including one instance in which she allegedly told a student, “All the candy you need is right here.”
During the hearing, Harrington-Cooper said little, saying a statement she submitted to the court was all she wanted to express. Her attorney, Joe D’Andrea, said in the letter Harrington-Cooper accepted responsibility for her actions, apologized to the victims and that she would use her time in jail to reflect on her actions.
Roberts urged the judge to follow the terms of a plea agreement, saying it was in the best interests of the four victims. She characterized the crimes as “sexually violent offenses” that will require Harrington-Cooper to register as a sex offender.
Harrington-Cooper will also be evaluated to determine whether she is classified a sexually violent predator, a designation that means the person has a diagnosed disorder and is at risk of re-offending, Roberts said.
D’Andrea said he was confident Harrington-Cooper will not qualify. But he also said she suffers from “self-image issues of acceptance and love.”
“She has been diagnosed with some significant psychological issues of inadequacy,” D’Andrea said. “You would think that she’s a pretty, young girl, that she would feel good about herself. But her self-esteem issues have really troubled her all of her life, and she found comfort and solace in some people giving her attention, as wrong as it was.”
The case has strained her marriage and family life, and Harrington-Cooper wanted to resolve the case quickly, he said.
“She acted out on some serious impulses and hopefully therapy and some other things will get her through this,” D’Andrea said.
In imposing the sentence, Luzerne County Judge Michael Vough said he hopes Harrington-Cooper can move on with her life after serving her time.
“You used your position of trust to exploit children,” Vough said.
As a registered sex offender for 25 years, Harrington-Cooper will never be able to teach or work with children again. She resigned from her position as an English teacher Jan. 22, and the state Department of Education suspended her teaching license last month.
Luzerne County Detective Chaz Balogh, who investigated the case, noted the case has generated considerable attention because of Harrington-Cooper’s gender.
“She’s no different than a male predator,” Balogh said. “She did the same thing except she’s a female, which makes this case a little unique.”
A crew from ABC News’ “20/20” attended the hearing for an upcoming story, although members said they did not yet know when it would air.
D’Andrea said Harrington-Cooper submitted to an interview for the program to address the issue of women educators being charged with sexual offenses. Harrington-Cooper, he said, has been vilified in the media and wanted to show she is “not in any way a monster.”
He said Harrington-Cooper was not giving any other interviews. She declined to comment as sheriff’s deputies led her in shackles and handcuffs to the Luzerne County Correctional Facility.
Check back to www.citizensvoice.com for updates.