Laura Perry's fourth-grade class at Trinity Lutheran Church and School in Houston exchanged letters with Rickey R. Rowlett for several months while he was jailed in Comal County for child molestation charges, the San Antonio Express-News reported Wednesday. Perry, a family friend of Rowlett, suggested the voluntary project to her students and told them the man was wrongly accused.
Last month, a jury convicted Rowlett for repeatedly sexually assaulting a girl younger than 14 between 2008 and 2011, the newspaper said. He was sentenced March 22 to 50 years in prison.
"What if he was found not guilty?" said District Attorney Jennifer Tharp. "He's got a group of children which he can very easily track down."
Perry is no longer on the school staff and the principal, Amy Boatman -- who approved of the pen-pal project -- is on administrative leave pending an internal investigation, said John Menke, chairman of the school's governing board. Menke called the correspondence project "absolutely unacceptable."
"There's a long history of churches corresponding with inmates," Menke said. "In this case, it was really poorly handled. We didn't have good information or know the type of charges pending."
The parents' lawsuit, filed March 27, accuses the school of negligence, breach of fiduciary duty, fraud, vicarious liability and inflicting emotional distress, the Express-News reported.