A judge has acquitted a former teacher at a southern Alberta high school who was accused of having an improper relationship with a 17-year-old student.

Jentry Jack Salmon, 35, a former teacher at the Raymond High School, was accused of sexual exploitation and child luring in connection with several alleged incidents that took place in the summer of 2016.

The court heard from the victim, who claimed she and Salmon went on multiple drives together and he kissed her about five times on the neck and cheek at various times.

Salmon defended his actions, testifying that he only met with the 17-year-old to offer his help with a number of issues she was having at school and at home.

He also told the court that he was only with the student in his vehicle once and no inappropriate conduct took place.

Salmon said when he discovered the student was developing feelings for him, he immediately took steps to distance himself from the girl, including deleting her from his social media accounts.

On Thursday, Justice E.C. Wilson ruled in favour of the teacher, saying he believed the testimony of Salmon’s wife who said he was at home in bed when the alleged offences took place.

He also said there was a reasonable doubt when it came to child luring.

Salmon says it’s the verdict that he “always expected” in the trial.

“The thing that’s too bad to me is that it’s taken two and a half years of my life to get to this point and I’m definitely mindful of how this has affected our small community. I think it’s been hard on everybody and we sure appreciate the verdict that was reached.”

He calls the court proceedings one of the worst experiences his family has ever faced.

“Everybody shares their opinions and decides my guilt based on things that are read or printed or said by others and, all along, I never had a chance to defend myself until this week. This was the first week that I’ve had an opportunity to do that and, obviously, the verdict was reached because of that.”

Salmon was suspended from his position at the West Wind School Division in October 2016.

He plans to take some time to address a few other things before he decides whether or not to pursue another teaching position.

“That’s a hard question right now. That’s what I’ve always wanted to do all my life. It’s hard not to feel a little bit jaded and a little bit burned right now,” he says. “The thing I loved about teaching was the opportunity that I had to have good relationships with kids and it would be hard to put myself in that position right now.”

He says he will do all he can to make sure that his professional teaching certificate remains intact.

The victim and her family left court without speaking to the media.

(With files from CTV Lethbridge’s Kaella Carr)