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Iowa board suspends teacher's license for alleged sexual exploitation of student

desks in a classroom
A state board has suspended a former Lone Tree educator’s Iowa teaching license for at least 12 years for alleged sexual involvement with a student.

A state board has suspended a former Lone Tree educator’s Iowa teaching license for at least 12 years for alleged sexual involvement with a student nearly two decades ago.

The Iowa Board of Educational Examiners approved the settlement with Justin Query last month.

As part of the settlement, Query denied the allegations “but acknowledges the evidence in the case may support a finding he engaged in an inappropriate relationship with a student.”

But the woman who filed the complaint with the board is still barred by Iowa law from pursuing criminal charges or a civil lawsuit against him.

IPR previously reported on Sarah’s efforts to hold Query accountable for allegedly grooming and sexually assaulting her when she was 17 and he was in his late 20s, working as an English teacher in the Lone Tree Community School District.

State lawmakers have repeatedly declined to get rid of the time limit for Iowans sexually abused as children to sue their abusers. The legislature removed the time limit on criminal charges related to child sex abuse, but it’s not retroactive. That has left licensure discipline as Sarah’s only option.

“I did everything that I could do in the state of Iowa to protect Iowa’s kids from this person and have him somewhat held accountable for his actions,” Sarah said.

Sarah has asked IPR to only use her first name because she fears retaliation, and her name isn’t included in the public settlement order.

The settlement includes a public reprimand for the charged conduct and a suspension of Query’s Iowa teaching license for a minimum of 12 years. It also requires Query to complete ethics courses for educators and undergo a risk evaluation by a sex offender treatment professional.

Sarah said it felt good to have what happened to her validated by a state board. She said she would pursue a lawsuit if she could.

“Having the ability to hold him legally accountable would be great, because I don’t. This is all I get to do,” Sarah said. “And it’s with the state board, and that’s awesome and amazing, and I’m not trying to diminish it at all. I super appreciate everything the board did to investigate this case. But it feels very weird to have all this evidence…and not be able to do anything legally about it.”

The final order from the board states Query was charged with sexual involvement or indecent contact with a student; sexual exploitation of a minor; committing or soliciting any sexual or otherwise indecent act with a student or any minor; soliciting, encouraging, or consummating a romantic or otherwise inappropriate relationship with a student; failing to make reasonable effort to protect the health and safety of the student; and conducting professional business in such a way that the practitioner repeatedly exposes students to unnecessary embarrassment or disparagement.

Query has not lived in Iowa for several years. He is facing allegations of similar misconduct in another state, where he still has an active teaching license.

Sarah said Iowa’s laws around child sex abuse need to be changed, and she also thinks there needs to be more work on the prevention side. She said education about grooming should be mandatory for teachers and administrators, and should be offered to teachers and parents as well so people can detect and stop it.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter