A former Morgan County Schools bus driver was arrested Sunday and charged with having sex with a student, according to the Morgan County Sheriff's Office.
Mark Anthony McAnally, 50, 10161 Alabama 35 E., Lacey's Spring, was charged with engaging in a sex act with a student under the age of 19. The felony warrant was issued in relation to events in 2017, according to the Sheriff's Office.
Mike Swafford, a spokesman for the Sheriff's Office, said the alleged victim was a student at Brewer High School.
Meanwhile, a court has set a June trial date for Carrie Witt, a former Decatur High School teacher charged in 2016 with the same offense.
Morgan County Superintendent Bill Hopkins Jr. said the school system initiated the investigation of McAnally in 2017.
According to Cliff Booth, director of human resources at Morgan County Schools, McAnally was placed on paid administrative leave from his position as a Lacey's Spring Elementary bus driver in February 2018 and he submitted his resignation March 6, 2018. McAnally had previously been a bus driver for Brewer High.
"We've been well aware of this thing, and we have been fully cooperating with the family and law enforcement since 2017. We helped initiate (the Sheriff's Office investigation)," Hopkins said. "We turned all of our statements and paperwork over to the sheriff's department."
Booth said McAnally was a bus driver and classroom aide for the system from 1993-1996. He was a substitute bus driver from 1996-1999. He was a full-time bus driver from 1999 until he resigned.
Hopkins, who declined to provide the age of the child, said he was not sure why charges were not filed earlier.
"There is zero tolerance level for that kind of conduct," Hopkins said. "First and foremost, our job is to protect the students of Morgan County."
The Sheriff's Office said McAnally was being held in the Morgan County Jail on $10,000 bond.
A conviction for violation of the law prohibiting a school employee from having sex with a student under 19 is a Class B felony punishable by up to 20 years in prison, with a requirement that the convicted defendant register as a sex offender.
The constitutionality of the law prohibiting school employees from having sex with students had been in question after former Morgan County Circuit Judge Glenn Thompson dismissed two indictments in August 2017. Thompson ruled the law was unconstitutional as applied to Witt, 45, who was a teacher at Decatur High School, and David Solomon, 28, who was a contract teacher at Falkville High School.
"This Court acknowledges that a disparity of power may inherently exist in a teacher/student relationship, but it clearly does not exist between every school employee and every student regardless of where the student is enrolled," Thompson wrote. "By eliminating the requirement that the state show a position of authority, grooming, abuse, coercion, or lack of consent, the state criminalizes behaviors outside the state's legitimate purpose."
Thompson’s ruling was reversed July 12 by the Alabama Criminal Court of Appeals, which held that Alabama had “a legitimate state interest in prohibiting Solomon’s and Witt’s conduct and in protecting minor students from school employees’ sexual advances.”
The Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that Thompson’s order was in error because the burden of proving the law was unconstitutional should have been placed on the defendants, and they failed to meet that burden.
“Moreover,” according to the appellate court, “there exists a legitimate state interest in prohibiting intimate contact between a teacher and a student.”
The court quoted a Kansas court decision upholding the constitutionality of a similar law.
“Teachers have constant access to students, often in an unsupervised context,” the Kansas court ruled. “Thus, teachers are in a unique position to groom or coerce students into exploitive or abusive conduct. It is uncontestable that the state must provide a safe school environment for students, which includes preventing the sexual exploitation of students.”
Last week, Morgan County Circuit Judge Jennifer Howell scheduled Witt’s trial for June 10 and Solomon’s trial for Sept. 23.
Decatur police alleged Witt had sexual relations with two male Decatur High students. One was 17 when the physical relationship started and the other was 18, according to police. She was arrested March 21, 2016, and was released after posting bond. She pleaded not guilty. Witt was placed on paid administrative leave and resigned in August 2018.
Solomon was a contract teacher at Falkville High School when the Sheriff’s Office alleged he had sexual relations with a Falkville High student. He was fired by the company he worked for after his March 29, 2016, arrest, and was released on bond. He pleaded not guilty.
No trial date has been set for Taylor Brooks Boyles, 29, who was charged in May 2017 by the Lawrence County Sheriff's Office with having sex with an 18-year-old Lawrence High School student while she was a teacher at Moulton Middle School. She pleaded not guilty. Circuit Judge Mark Craig in October 2017 denied her motion to dismiss the case, but halted proceedings in the case pending the appellate court's ruling in the Witt and Solomon cases.