Enochs High teacher resigns after leaving wife, kids for student, 18

naustin@modbee.comFebruary 28, 2012 

— A 41-year-old Enochs High School teacher in Modesto has resigned and moved in with an 18-year-old student.

The reaction has been largely shock, disapproval and betrayal.

The teen's mother has waged a very public campaign on Facebook since last week, when her daughter moved out of the family's home and into a Modesto apartment with the man. He has left his wife and children, one of whom is a junior at Enochs.

Modesto police are investigating whether there was inappropriate contact before the girl turned 18 in the fall.

And school district and teachers union officials worry that an ethical and moral line has been crossed, even if the student is legally an adult.

James Hooker was placed on paid administrative leave Feb. 3 by Modesto City Schools and resigned Feb. 22, he said Tuesday. Hooker taught business and computer classes, and he was an adviser to three active campus clubs.

"In making our choice, we've hurt a lot of people," Hooker acknowledged. "We keep asking ourselves, 'Do we make everyone else happy or do we follow our hearts?' "

Hooker and Enochs senior Jordan Powers said Tuesday in an interview at The Bee that they are making a life for themselves "day by day."

Powers was in Hooker's virtual business class and an associated club until his suspension. They said they met when she was a freshman.

Tammie Powers, Jordan's mother, said she believes Hooker pursued her daughter. She said her daughter's grades fell this year, and Jordan had panic attacks.

"I believe it was the stress of the lie," Tammie Powers said. She said her daughter was "always compliant," kept her room tidy at their Waterford home and minded her curfew. No R-rated movies until she was of age. No lone trips to the mall or the movies.

"I was really, really careful. I wanted her to be safe," she said.

"In hindsight, in retrospect, I should have looked at things differently," Powers said.

Powers said her first inkling that her daughter was involved with her teacher came Jan. 16, during her young son's trip to the emergency room. Hooker came to the hospital with her daughter, who left her phone with an older sister.

The sister, suspicious, found dozens of text messages from Hooker. Powers said when she confronted her daughter, she denied any romance existed. Still worried, Powers contacted Modesto police detectives the next day.

Looking back over phone records, she said she found an estimated 8,000 text messages between the teacher and student going back through the summer. In the fall, about 32 texts a day, starting at 6 a.m. were recorded, she said.

School officials contacted her about a week later with concerns, she said. Discussions between police, school and the family continued for another week, ending with Hooker's suspension Feb. 3.

At that point, Powers said, she was assured by school officials that Hooker would stay away, and her daughter said she was done with Hooker.

"She promised me they didn't have contact. I didn't know until last week there was a sexual relationship. We didn't see any of it," Powers said.

Jordan Powers' father died in 2001. Tammie Powers is engaged, and her fiancé and one of his children live with them, along with Jordan's younger brother. The mother said her fiancé "is horrified, but he's not going to fight with him."

On Facebook, Powers has called Hooker "an arrogant pervert," among other things, and urged readers to "help get the word out" about his involvement with a student.

The hundreds of responses are, for the most part, supportive of her. Many express disbelief.

David Wainwright posted that he sees teacher and student as complicit in the relationship, then added: "I just wouldn't of expected this from my fav teacher. What is the world coming to?"

Modesto City Schools Superintendent Pam Able confirmed Hooker's resignation Tuesday morning.

"Allegations of Mr. Hooker having a relationship with a student is the source of great concern for staff, students and parents. I consider student-teacher dating relationships to be not only unprofessional, but immoral," Able said via e-mail.

Modesto City Schools Board President Rubén Villalobos said Tuesday: "Schools need to be a safe place. Anything less than that is a failure." He said he could not comment on the case, but said in general teacher-student romances are wrong "because of that unequal balance of power."

Such relationships are rare, said Megan Gowans, executive director of the Modesto Teachers Association. She said the union offers training about lines teachers should not cross, even with adult students. "In the teacher-student relationship, there's a professional expectation that doesn't stop at age 18," Gowans said.

Career may be over

Hooker knows his decisions may have cost him his teaching career. He taught business courses for 15 years and advised three campus clubs — Future Business Leaders of America, Mock Trial Club and Virtual Business Club.

Extra jobs such as the clubs earned Hooker $28,000 in added pay in 2009, the latest figures immediately available. District records show Hooker made $110,537 that year.

Enochs Principal Michael Coats said Tuesday that a new business teacher has been found, and teachers will step in to advise the club teams. Coats has assured parents contacting the school that students in Hooker's classes will get credit for their work.

Hooker said he is forbidden to have contact with the students or staff at Enochs.

Hooker and Jordan Powers said their relationship was strictly teacher-student until mid-December, when they started talking more frequently and then dated. "I just kind of knew that she's the one," he said.

Powers turned 18 on Sept. 5, and Modesto police say that makes her a consenting adult. However, Lt. Rick Armendariz said there is an ongoing investigation involving a high school teacher and student.

Hooker confirmed Tuesday that he remains the object of a police probe. He said he is confident he will be cleared of accusations that any physical relationship started while Powers was a minor.

"There's no evidence of that. There's no proof of that. It didn't exist," Hooker said.

He said the criticism is part of a campaign of lies he and Powers face online and in person. "I've been portrayed as a monster through all of this," Hooker said. "I'm not a monster. I'm not any different than I've always been."

Powers sat quietly by Hooker's side as he spoke Tuesday. She said she is on independent study and doesn't attend classes at Enochs, but intends to graduate and enroll in a four-year college to become a nurse. "I'm walking the stage in May," she said.

Hooker said he hopes to get a job in the private sector. "We're just taking it day by day," he said.

Bee education reporter Nan Austin can be reached at naustin@modbee.com or (209) 578-2339.