But on Friday, Bearse, now a middle school science teacher outside Charleston, W.Va., appeared before an audience of one — a magistrate judge who read four felony counts accusing her of sending nude photos of herself to a 15-year-old former student over Snapchat.
Bearse admitted to sending the photos to the male student after his parents alerted authorities, the Associated Press reported, citing court documents. She had been the student’s teacher for part of his time at Andrew Jackson Middle School, the AP reported.
A Kanawha County Magistrate Court judge told Bearse the charges carry a maximum of 20 years in prison and a $100,000 fine. She declined to provide comment to reporters at the county court, and her attorney, A.L. Emch, did not return a request for comment.
Bearse was suspended from her position at the school, the Kanawha County Sheriff’s Office said Friday on Facebook, and was released on a $10,000 property bond following her arraignment.
Briana Warner, a spokeswoman for Kanawha County Schools, said the school cannot comment on personnel matters “but we will follow all applicable policies and procedures.” Bearse was listed as an employee on the school’s website as of Saturday morning.
It is not clear whether authorities believe other students received explicit photos from Bearse. The sheriff’s office urged anyone with information on the case or similar instances to contact investigators.
The Miss America Organization referred questions to Bearse’s attorney. Bearse competed in the pageant under her maiden name of Carpenter.
Bearse, who had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, made raising awareness and research funds for the illness part of her Miss America platform four years ago.
She had already lined up to speak before neurologists at the National Multiple Sclerosis Society following the pageant, according to a story from the Lexington Herald-Leader.
"I just want to help people understand the disease,” she told the newspaper at the time.
This post has been updated.