Jenifer Lynn Smith, 50, was a Spanish teacher at Bidwell Junior High, part of the Chico Unified School District, when she began an abusive sexual relationship with one of her students in 2010 around the time the girl turned 14 years old, according to a press release from the Butte County District Attorney’s Office.
The victim reported abuse to police in 2020, and Smith was subsequently arrested in August. Smith pleaded no contest to sexual abuse charges — two of the counts related to crimes committed when the victim was under 16, and two related to crimes committed when the victim was under 18.
District Attorney Mike Ramsey said in the release the former student revealed Smith “began paying extra attention to her” after she told Smith about her turbulent life at home. Smith began spending time with her then-student outside of school hours by including her in Smith’s family outings.
Later, the victim moved in with Smith’s family. Smith described the victim to friends and associates as her daughter, the DA’s Office said, also noting Smith regularly provided the girl marijuana and alcohol while molesting her.
At Thursday’s sentencing hearing in Butte County Superior Court, the victim addressed the court, describing the years of abuse and the emotional pain she still suffers from as a result of Smith’s actions, Ramsey said.
Also present in the court room was another alleged victim who said Smith attempted to groom her for sexual abuse years before Smith met the other victim as a student.
Smith’s request for probation was denied, and Judge Michael Deems sentenced Smith to the maximum term under the charges Smith pleaded to.
“Teachers in our community are trusted with our most precious things — our children. Teachers who violate that trust by sexually abusing their students do great harm to their victims and their community at large,” Ramsey said in the release. “We owe a debt of great gratitude to this brave young lady who came forward and shared her story with us. Her courage allowed us to take a dangerous predator off the streets.”
Smith had been on mandatory leave from her teaching position since her arrest, according to documents filed in court. She is likely to resign from her job and surrender her teaching credential by the California Board of Education.
At the time of Smith’s arrest, CUSD issued a statement that said, in part, there was no evidence indicating the allegations against Smith included any current students in the district.
“CUSD has no greater priority than the safety of our students,” the district said in the statement. “We do not tolerate conduct from any individual that compromises student safety or betrays the trust placed in our professionals. We remain committed to taking all necessary actions to ensure that our students are educated in a safe environment.”
Upon Smith’s release from prison, she will be required to register as a sex offender for a minimum of 20 years.