Iowa Supreme Court Upholds Former Teacher’s Sexual Exploitation Conviction

Iowa Supreme Court Upholds Former Teacher's Sexual Exploitation Conviction

Iowa Supreme Court Upholds Conviction of Former High School Teacher for Sexual Exploitation of Student


Kari Jean Schwartz, a former art teacher at Independence High School, was convicted for sexual exploitation of a student in a 4-3 split decision by the Iowa Supreme Court. According to court documents, Schwartz had inappropriate interactions with a female student, referred to as A. S., in 2009. Schwartz admitted to texting, emailing and hugging A. S. more than once, but she insisted that she was merely attempting to comfort A. S. through these hugs or posing for pictures at the prompting of others. However, the incident that led to her conviction occurred in a stairwell when Schwartz held A. S. in a “bear hug” and began sexually assaulting her. Schwartz would later be convicted in district court and sentenced to five years in prison and a special 10-year sentence.

The Ruling

Schwartz appealed her conviction to the Iowa Court of Appeals and later the Iowa Supreme Court. Her appeal claimed her case was prejudiced by the jury being mistakenly instructed that hugs are a form of sexual conduct, and by the exclusion from evidence of the initial findings of a school investigation. She also argued there was insufficient evidence that her behavior elicited a pattern of sexual conduct.

However, the Iowa Supreme Court majority disagreed that the trial judge had wrongly included hugging in a list of sexual conduct. The majority opinion stated that the law and the disputed jury instruction “provide that sexual conduct includes touching of the ‘clothed or unclothed inner thigh, breast, groin, buttock, anus, pubes, or genitals.'” The majority of justices found that even if the jury instruction was incorrect, it was not enough to overturn the conviction.

The dissenting opinions agreed with the majority on all the facts of the case except for how prejudicial the jury instruction was. “I am not convinced that the record before us affirmatively establishes that this instructional error did not prejudice the defendant,” Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Susan Christensen wrote. Justices Edward Mansfield and Thomas Waterman joined the dissent. Christensen also pointed out that there was conflicting testimony about the incident in the stairwell and “the jury could have found reasonable doubt as to whether the sexual touching on the stairwell occurred, while finding that the hugging took place.”

The Significance

The significance of this ruling is that it upholds the principle that sexual exploitation is unacceptable, even in instances where it may be difficult to determine intent or context. The court’s ruling also sends a message that inappropriate conduct by educators will not be tolerated and will be met with serious consequences.


The Iowa Supreme Court’s ruling upholding the conviction of a former high school teacher for sexual exploitation of a student is significant because it promotes an environment of trust and safety in our schools, where students are protected from the harm and abuse of educators. It also demonstrates the importance of clear and concise jury instructions that adhere to the law while also taking into account the nuances of individual cases.

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