A former teacher at Parkland High School sent messages to a 15-year-old female student and then grabbed her buttocks in a faculty elevator as they hugged, a Forsyth County prosecutor said Wednesday.
“That was close,” Darren Rashad Nelson said as another teacher got onto the elevator after he inappropriately touched the student, according to Assistant District Attorney Pansy Glanton.
Nelson, 35, pleaded guilty Wednesday in Forsyth Superior Court to misdemeanor sexual battery. As part of the plea arrangement, Glanton voluntarily dismissed two felony charges of taking indecent liberties.
Judge Brad Long of Forsyth Superior Court gave Nelson a suspended sentence of 60 days in jail and placed Nelson on supervised probation for 18 months. Nelson will have to register as a sex offender for a period of 30 years. Nelson had worked as an exceptional-children’s teacher at Parkland High School and also had coaching duties.
School officials initially suspended Nelson with pay the day after they learned of the allegations.
They later suspended Nelson without pay, and Superintendent Beverly Emory recommended Nelson’s dismissal.
Nelson was terminated, effective June 23, 2015, school spokeswoman Alexandra Hoskins said Wednesday.
According to Glanton, Nelson started sending messages in May 2015 to the 15-year-old girl through Snapchat, a social-media application that allows users to send photos, videos and text messages. School officials discourage teachers and other employees from sending text messages to students’ personal cellphones.
On May 26, 2015, Nelson sent the student a message asking her to meet him in the faculty elevator at Parkland. He said he wanted to tell her a secret, Glanton said. When the student got onto the elevator, Nelson asked the student if he could hug her. When he hugged her, he touched the girl’s buttocks, Glanton said.
The incident was reported to the school-resource officer and to Winston-Salem police in June. Nelson was interviewed by detectives and initially denied the allegations, Glanton said. He then admitted he sent messages to the student and hugged the student in the faculty elevator.
He said that he touched the student’s buttocks accidentally during the hug, according to Glanton.
Glanton said that in many of the messages he sent the student, he asked her if he could tell her a secret or if she could keep a secret. In one message, he asked her if she was going to the school prom.
In one message, the student said, “I have respect for myself. I hope you don’t think we’re going to do anything sexual.”
“I know that,” Nelson replied, according to Glanton.
David Freedman, Nelson’s attorney, said Nelson used poor judgment. He noted that Nelson didn’t contest the school system’s recommendation that he be terminated.
Nelson had taught for Winston-Salem/Forsyth County school system since 2003 and at Parkland since 2013. He previously worked at Reynolds High School.