Destrehan teacher sex scandal illustrates persistent stereotypes about gender, age _lowres

Rachel Respess, left, Shelley Dufresne

The two Destrehan teachers caught up in a sex scandal with a 16-year-old student are being sued by his parents in state district court, along with the St. Charles Parish School Board.

The suit, which was filed in August but not reported on until Thursday, seeks damages stemming from the sexual relationship Shelley Dufresne, 33, had with the boy, whose identity is being withheld, in 2014.

The suit says Dufresne began flirting with the boy during the 2014-15 school year, even reaching out to him on social media when he was out of school sick.

That contact, the suit says, was ostensibly to determine if he was feeling better, but she began contacting him regularly, fostering a close personal and emotional relationship with him.

Eventually, the suit says, she kissed him in her classroom during school hours. The relationship soon became sexual, and the two had intercourse more than 40 times in the ensuing weeks. Dufresne performed oral sex on the boy as well, the suit says.

The petition says that when fellow teacher Rachel Respess, 25, found out about the relationship, she did not turn in her co-worker and in fact offered to let her use Respess’ Kenner apartment.

“She ultimately joined the abuse by having sex with (the boy) and Ms. Dufresne in her apartment following a Destrehan High School football game,” the suit says.

That incident led to criminal charges in 24th Judicial District Court against Dufresne of carnal knowledge of a juvenile and against Respess of failure to report a felony.

Those charges are still pending, although Dufresne took a plea deal on criminal charges in St. Charles Parish that will allow her to avoid any prison time there or having to register as a sex offender.

The civil suit says Dufresne made disparaging comments about the boy on social media after the relationship became public and showed no remorse for conduct that “demonstrated a wanton and reckless disregard” for the boy’s mental and emotional safety.

The suit claims this and unspecified prior incidents show the School Board didn’t adequately screen, train and supervise Dufresne and Respess. It says the board failed to enact and enforce policies to protect students and didn’t train teachers to recognize and report inappropriate behavior between teachers and students.

The suit claims the boy and his parents suffered mental anguish, emotional distress, humiliation and damage to their reputation and family relationships.

It says the boy’s ability to maintain healthy relationships was damaged, the parents lost wages and career opportunities, and both incurred costs related to counseling and treatment.

All three judges in the 29th Judicial District in St. Charles Parish have recused themselves from the case because Dufresne is a daughter of one of the judges. Retired Judge Robert Klees has been tapped to hear the case.

Respess has filed a response denying all the allegations against her.

The School Board has filed a response contending the time periods referred to in the suit are too vague, that the boy should be the main plaintiff because he is now of age and that the boy’s parents are not entitled to many of the claims for which they seek damages.

Follow Chad Calder on Twitter, @Chad_Calder.