INDEPENDENCE — Kari Jean Schwartz’s sobs echoed in the hallway outside the courtroom still five minutes after the jury that convicted her had left.
District Court Judge John Bauercamper had thanked the jurors for their efforts in the “very difficult” case.
Schwartz, 38, of Waterloo, was convicted of sexual exploitation by a school employee by a pattern, practice or scheme. She now faces five years in prison, but is on release from jail until her sentencing hearing.
The jury began deliberations at 8 a.m. at the Buchanan County Courthouse. The verdict was read at 2:45 p.m.
Schwartz, was found guilty of the Class D felony. As the jury was polled one at a time at her attorney’s request, Schwartz sat at the defense table with her head in her hands, sobbing into a COVID-19 face shield.
After the jury left, Schwartz pointed and cried out toward three people sitting in the gallery behind Assistant Iowa Attorney General Israel Kodiaga, who prosecuted the case.
A police immediately ushered the trio out of the courtroom.
The case is rooted in events at Independence High School in 2009. The victim, a student at the school, had reported Schwartz’s communications to school administration at the time, but did not tell them about being sexually assaulted, according to court documents.
Then, in 2018, the victim contacted Cedar Falls Community Schools Superintendent Dr. Andy Pattee, about Schwartz, who had been hired in 2010 at Peet Junior High School. She wrote about her experience with Schwartz, and included the assault allegation.
“I’ve never brought this situation to court (I had the option when I was in high school, but I was too scared to do so), and I have been in counseling for almost 8 years,” she wrote in the e-mail. “I’ve finally gotten to a point where I want my story to be heard, because it hurts me to think that she is working with an even more vulnerable population now (special education) than she was at Independence.”
On Jan. 30, 2020, Independence Police took a report about Schwartz, a former art teacher, allegedly sexually assaulting a student in 2009 in a stairwell at Independence High School, according to court documents.
Schwartz was arrested and charged on July 3, 2020.
The criminal complaint says the former student said that on Sept. 29, 2009, after class let out, Schwartz asked about her quietness in class and would not let her leave without discussing what was bothering her. It also said Schwartz had been sending her electronic messages expressing affection the victim told police that she felt she was being groomed for exploitation.
The student left the art room and was in a stairwell when Schwartz grabbed her from behind in a bear hug and forced her to sit on a step, where sexual touching began, both on top and beneath clothing, the complaint says. She was able to get away when two male students entered the stairwell from a lower floor, she said.
The student reported the messages to school administration, but not the assault, and an investigation was conducted, the complaint says.
The Independence School Board approved Schwartz’s resignation as the high school art teacher on Oct. 20, 2009, according to meeting minutes. She had been employed by the district since August 2005.
A sentencing hearing is scheduled at 11 a.m., Dec. 21, at the county courthouse. The Class D felony carries a penalty of up to 5 years imprisonment and a fine between $750 and $7,500.
As a mandatory reporter, Schwartz is not eligible for a deferred judgment, deferred sentence or suspended sentence because the victim was under the age of 18 years at the time, according to a news release by the Buchanan County Attorney's Office.
Because the offense is also considered sexually predator and sexually violent, Schwartz will be subject to DNA profiling, registration as a sex offender with exclusion zones and employment restrictions and a special sentence of 10 years parole following completion of her underlying sentence pursuant, according to the release.