Lancaster coach arrested for sexual battery of a student

by: Greg Suskin Updated:

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LANCASTER, S.C. - A Lancaster High School teacher is at home this week, after he was charged with having sex with a 16-year-old.
Tony Ford, 36, teaches business at Lancaster High School, and coaches JV football and track at Indian Land High School.

Lancaster County sheriff's deputies have charged Ford with having sex with a 16-year-old girl who was a student at Indian Land.

Deputies said the relationship was consensual, and lasted a year and a half. It was uncovered when the girl's parents discovered communication between the two in the teen's room, after the relationship had ended. They called law enforcement on Sept. 10.

Friends told Channel Nine that Ford didn't know the girl from school, but from his church. He resigned two weeks ago as youth director at  Pleasant Valley Baptist Church in Indian Land. The girl's family is among the members there, according to Pastor David Falgout, who was stunned at the allegations.

"He was really good with the kids, very energetic, and they responded to him well," Falgout said.

On  Sept. 11, the pastor said, deputies called and told him about sexual allegations against Ford. The pastor asked  Ford to step down immediately.

"You never expect that you're going to have to face something like this," Falgout said. "My heart hurts. I don't have words."

Lancaster High School senior Ashton Nottingham had a computer class with Ford last year.

"He was one of my favorite teachers," she said. "This doesn't seem like Mr. Ford at all. It's not him."

Ford, who is married, is in his third year in the district as a teacher. School safety director Bryan Vaughn said teachers go through extensive training about personal relationships with students. He said the topic is brought up constantly, but this case probably could not have been prevented.

"Because we feel like it started in the community, and not in the school. We believe they had a relationship prior to his employment here," Vaughn said.

Vaughn said situations like this are difficult for schools because of lost trust.

"When you hire folks, and parents put their trust in folks, we expect good things to happen in the classroom. We don't expect students to be taken advantage of in this way."

Even though the relationship was consensual, Ford is charged with sexual battery of a student because of his role as a teacher.

Under South Carolina law, sex between a student and a person in authority over that student is illegal, even if the child is over the age of consent.

Ford is out of jail on a $15,000 bond, and on administrative leave.

Vaughn said the superintendent could decide by week's end about the future of Ford's employment there.