FAULKNER COUNTY, Ark. — Nearly two years ago, a high school art teacher in Mayflower was arrested for having sex with one of her students, a 17-year-old boy. Jessica Kaplan pleaded guilty to the crime, and last month. The 32-year-old wife and mother received a sentence of 10 years probation and 15 years of registering as a sex offender.
Fox 16 obtained the case file, which sheds light on the interaction between Kaplan and the student through text messages over the course of more than a year, leading up to their sexual encounters. Kaplan and the student exchanged thousands of messages between each other, which prosecutor Hugh Finkelstein says might have been the strongest evidence.
“It went from talking to texting privately to texting more about personal things, and that grew into a sexual relationship,” Finkelstein says. “There were almost 5,000 text messages between the two in a short period of time.”
Excerpts of some of the messages say things like:
Jessica: “Just the thought of you makes me grin.”
Boy: “I haven’t stopped smiling since last night.”
Jessica: “Your hugs are comforting.”
Boy: “Yours are too.”
Jessica: “I really wanted to kiss you, but I felt so gross.”
“One of the things that we always try to get a look at are text messages,” Finkelstein says. “It allows people to have an artificial barrier where they feel they can say anything they want.”
According to investigators, Kaplan had sex with the teen in an art room closet and in her car down a discreet road in town.
The texting hit a fever pitch just before her arrest.
Excerpts of the text messages include the following exchanges:
Boy: “You’ve been on my mind nonstop and I’m happy for it.”
Jess: “You keep telling me I’m amazing but you are seriously seriously amazing.”
Boy: “I just want to sleep until I’m 18.”
Jess: “I would never see you.”
Jess: “My sleeping beauty.”
The boy’s parents ultimately found some of the messages and told police.
Kaplan eventually pleaded guilty to sexual assault.
“The issue I think that most people see when they look at this is a gender-reversal issue, and that’s the big ‘what-if,'” Finkelstein says.
Recent notable cases across the state followed a similar pattern.
In 2018, a female teacher in northeast Arkansas named Jessie Goline got probation for sex with multiple students
In 2019, a female teacher in Dardanelle named Chrystal Vega got probation for sex with a student.
Also in 2019, a female principal named Jessica Williams in Waldron got nine months in jail and probation for sex with a student.
Back in 2016, a male band director in Harrison named Kyle Smith got 15 years in federal prison for intent to have sex with a student and coercing another.
“Unfortunately, that’s a problem with perception,” Finkelstein says. “We think society needs to catch up to being fair across the board.”
We spoke with Jessica Kaplan on the phone, but she declined to comment on her case or her sentence.