TAMPA — A 40-year-old Farnell Middle School teacher who sought sex last year from a 14-year-old boy was spared prison Tuesday after she pleaded guilty to lewd and lascivious conduct.
Tammy Renee Clinton, a geography teacher with an unblemished work record, was sentenced to 10 years of sex-offender probation. She could have gotten up to 15 years in prison.
Before the sentencing by Hillsborough County Circuit Judge Chet Tharpe, the victim's mother described how Clinton's abuse of her child's trust has devastated the family.
Clinton was the boy's mentor in the seventh and eighth grades, the mother said. He had learning disabilities and struggled with communication.
The mother said Clinton took advantage of his vulnerability. The teacher befriended him, encouraged him to touch her, shared intimate details of her marriage, and propositioned sex. The mother said her son felt he had betrayed Clinton when he finally reported her overtures to another teacher.
The boy now lives with his father out of state.
"My son has lost respect for teachers," she said. "He's been reprimanded for behavior. His grades have suffered. It's had a lasting effect on his education and future."
Clinton was originally charged with lewd and lascivious molestation, but that charge was dropped. Hillsborough County Assistant State Attorney Rita Peters said the touching that occurred did not constitute molestation.
In another teacher sexual misconduct case before Judge Tharpe last year, the outcome was far more harsh.
Stephanie Ragusa, a math teacher at Davidsen Middle School, pleaded guilty in April 2010 to three counts of lewd and lascivious battery involving a 14-year-old boy, and two counts of having unlawful sex with a minor involving a 16-year-old student.
Ragusa had smiled through many of the court proceedings, angering Tharpe. "You had a very lackadaisical attitude on your face, smiling, jovial," Tharpe told her at sentencing. He sentenced Ragusa to 10 years in prison.
Hillsborough County Assistant State Attorney Rita Peters said a number of mitigating factors figured into the lesser sentence of probation.
Clinton never had sex with the boy. She has a "mental health history," but her use of medications had not been monitored. Her teaching record was good. She has two children of her own and one is a special-needs child who requires 24-hour care.
Peters said she believed the risk of Clinton offending again is very low. She also said the victim's family didn't want to put their son through a jury trial.
As part of her probation, Clinton can't live near a school. She must undergo treatment for sex offenders. The only children she can be around are her own.
She cannot hand out candy on Halloween or ever wear an Easter Bunny or Santa Claus costume.