The Shaw Junior High School band teacher was in trouble. He was facing up to five years in prison after admitting to a sexual affair with a 15-year-old Shaw student.

Lorenzo McCrea was 39 and married. When the girl became pregnant last year, he gave her $500 for an abortion, then continued to have sex with her. When her furious father complained to officials at the Northwest Washington school, prosecutors contend, McCrea at first denied all, lying to the father and to Assistant Principal Wilson M. Morgan.

But when the time came for sentencing, Morgan and Principal Erma M. Withers had only praise for the teacher. Morgan wrote D.C. Superior Court Judge Henry F. Greene: "I miss Mr. McCrea! If there was any way Mr. McCrea could return to Shaw, I would gladly accept him on our staff."

D.C. School Superintendent Arlene Ackerman, informed of the situation this week by a D.C. sex crimes prosecutor, termed the administrators' conduct "unacceptable" and initiated an investigation into why they supported him.

"To tell you that I was shocked is an understatement," Ackerman said. "It sends the wrong signal, not only to the children, who must depend on us to protect them and nurture them, but to the adults. I want them to know it's not only intolerable but inexcusable."

Withers said neither she nor Morgan would discuss the matter publicly. McCrea's attorney, Michael Lasley, did not return calls seeking comment, nor did the teenager's father. McCrea, who lived in Southeast Washington, is in prison, sentenced by Greene on May 25 to the five-year maximum for enticing a minor child.

McCrea's case has provoked unusually strong reactions about him and his decision to romance a young student in what both sides describe as a consensual relationship. His mother-in-law, Mary L. Johnson, asked Greene to give the band instructor a "second chance to make right what he has wronged." She called him a "kind and gentle individual."

"I trust him with my life," she said.

Lloyd W. Hoover, who spent 43 years as a band teacher at the school, described McCrea as a "role model" for young men in the Shaw neighborhood. He said McCrea is "known throughout the metropolitan area as one of the area's best band secrets."

One voice on the other side is Assistant U.S. Attorney Gary Collins, who took the step of alerting Ackerman to the sex offense and to what he called "inexcusable conduct" by educators Withers and Morgan.

"The issue is not how she behaved," Collins said of the girl. "She is a child. She behaved as a child. He is an adult and he failed to act as an adult, or as a responsible adult."

Court documents describe a months-long sexual relationship that started in June 1998. McCrea and the girl -- -The Post does not publish the names of sex crime victims- -- had intercourse behind the Shaw auditorium, in McCrea's home and in his car.

On Sept. 30, she learned she was pregnant. When McCrea gave the girl money to have an abortion, Collins told Greene, she spent almost half of the cash on junk food and other items. She later went to an abortion clinic, but was told that she did not have enough money.

The girl's father went to Shaw on Oct. 1 to complain to Morgan, the assistant principal. Morgan summoned McCrea, who denied having sex with the girl, according to Collins's account. Six hours later, McCrea returned to Morgan's office and admitted the affair.

McCrea called the father several times that night to say he knew of other abortion clinics where the procedure could be performed, Collins said. The girl became a mother in March, two months after her 16th birthday. A paternity test later showed that McCrea was not the baby's father, the prosecutor reported.

After McCrea pleaded guilty to the felony on Feb. 26, Greene ordered him directly to jail to await sentencing. Among nearly two dozen letters of support later sent to Greene, none attracted more attention than the two written on the Shaw Junior High School letterhead.

"I have never seen a young man with the energy and patience in dealing with today's youth," Withers wrote. "He will do well in any endeavor he chooses. He is indeed a rare individual and worker. I wish him well. . . . Thank you for your time and consideration."

Morgan wrote that McCrea was "respected to the highest" as a role model for students and staff. "I can only say positive things for Mr. McCrea since I've known him and it upset me tremendously that he was involved in a negative act. However, he came to me honestly to inform me of his actions."

The judge sent McCrea to prison, required him to pay $5,000 to a crime victims' fund and ordered him to register as a sex offender wherever he lives. Greene also said he was "extremely distressed" by the Morgan and Withers letters.

Morgan's letter in particular, Greene said, "communicates a message to the children . . . and the parents of our children in our public schools that is wholly unacceptable."

Collins believes the administrators should be fired.

"I do not believe they should be working in the school system," he said. "If there are people in the school system who do not take child sexual abuse seriously, we need to be asking why and we need to follow up."

Ackerman said it is "absolutely unimaginable" that McCrea -- who resigned his job Feb. 12 -- would be rehired by the school system. She pledged a thorough investigation of the administrators and, if merited, "appropriate sanctions."