SARANAC, Mich. (WOOD) — Parents hope teachers are only interested in students’ grades. But if a teacher has other intentions, her or she only needs to wait until the student turns 18 to avoid criminal charges.
Target 8 has exposed this legal loophole before. Now, authorities say another teacher has taken advantage of it.
A police report obtained by Target 8 provides evidence of a sexual relationship between a Saranac High School teacher and her student, and lays out the reason it was not a crime — though both seemed to know it was wrong.
One text between the two read, “Man…those dudes ur w/ aren’t going to go call WOODTV on my a** for texting u r they? :)”
But someone did tip off 24 Hour News 8, and police soon confirmed they were investigating teacher Alison Hoendervanger. Hoendervanger was the teacher for the Go Program, which helps struggling juniors and seniors graduate on time.
Detectives said text messages between Hoendervanger and a senior in her class demonstrate they had a sexual relationship. The texts were, at first, school-related when they started in September 2013. They then became flirty and finally sexual.
One exchange, which Target 8 has transcribed without correcting spelling and grammar errors, reads:
“I got some new underwear the other day! Lol”
“And u want me see how good they look on ya?! :) haha”
“I got a pic for ya if ya want”
The Ionia County Sheriff’s Department report shows a picture was sent. The texts were deleted before investigators got them, so it’s unknown who sent which text. It is known, however, that the messages were between Hoendervanger and her student.
About a week after the texting started, the Saranac senior turned 18.
“Ur 18 :)”
“Yupp I’m legal :)”
If it’s a familiar scenario. In 2010, police records obtained by Target 8 showed a male teacher at Ionia High School took a female student to a hotel the day after she turned 18.
It was a few days after the Saranac senior’s birthday last fall that detectives believe Hoendervanger and her student had sex for the first time in the teacher’s car.
“It sucks it was in the front seat but it was still best! :)”
Someone responded, “I honestly can say the same thing…wow”.
Detectives said they found naked pictures of the teacher on the student’s phone. The student told police they had sex a second time a month later in Hoendervanger’s home.
Target 8 went to Hoendervanger’s residence several times seeking comment, but was turned away. She has also refused to talk to investigators, but her attorney has said Hoendervanger denies the relationship.
The text messages suggest word got out.
“I know I’m sorry but how do others know”
“Cuz (name redacted) has a big mouth!!!!!!!!!!! I could get fired!!!!!!!!”
Fired, maybe. But criminally charged? Not a chance.
“All the teacher has to do it wait until they are 18,” said Ionia County Prosecutor Ron Schafer.
Just like in the 2010 Ionia High School case, in the eyes of the law, Hoendervanger did not commit a crime.
“It’s appalling that they can take advantage of that relationship and legally engage in sexual intercourse with a student,” said Schafer.
He said teachers could start grooming students for sexual relationships as early as freshman year.
Police said Hoendervanger’s student told them that after the first time, he regretted having sex with her. But, he said, was afraid to break it off because he needed his teacher’s help to graduate and join the Army.
Detectives discovered that the student had goggled, quote, “I had sex with my teacher how much trouble can I get in if I am 18?”
However, he didn’t express any concern in the text messages until he ended the relationship in October.
Saranac Community Schools Superintendent Maury Geiger told Target 8 the district’s policy does not approve of inappropriate student-staff relationships. He said Hoendervanger is on paid leave while the district investigates, but he would prefer leaving it to the justice system.
“If this causes the legislation to look at this a little differently, then that would be great,” he said.
If Hoendervanger is fired, according to the Michigan Department of Education, she can get a teaching job at another district.
Legislation has been introduced twice to make it illegal for a teacher to have sex with a student of any age, but measures were not passed by the legislature and did not become law.