A veteran teacher, respected in the community and trusted with chaperoning students on trips abroad, is now accused of what authorities are calling an abuse of trust and power.
Giovanna Yaranga, a Spanish teacher at Vermont's Burlington High School, is accused of having a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old senior she had as student, the Burlington Free Press reports. Burlington City Police said they found the pair in the back seat of the boy's car April 29.
The 44-year-old teacher pleaded not guilty on Monday to four felony counts of sexual exploitation of a minor. Police documents state that when the pair were discovered, Yaranga said she and the boy were talking and had needed more legroom.
But, as state's attorney T.J. Donovan told NBC affiliate WPTZ, police thought that the situation was suspicious, "given the time of night [and]... the disclosure given by Ms. Yaranga that she was in fact this minor's teacher."
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Yaranga was arrested Saturday after a sex-crimes investigation unit interviewed the student, who alleged he had had sex with the teacher about 10 times in a variety of locations over a seven-month period. According to CBS affiliate WCAX, Yaranga told police that the boy was confused and said she had encouraged him to date people his own age, including her own daughter.
Burlington school district officials sent a letter to parents Monday afternoon addressing the investigation and the charges against Yaranga, according to a separate Burlington Free Press report.
"This deeply upsetting news affects our entire community," the letter read, in part. "We are cooperating fully with their investigation. We have also placed the teacher on administrative leave and are conducting an internal investigation."
Donovan told WPTZ that Burlington High School principal Amy Mellencamp wasn't surprised when authorities contacted her about the case.
"Parents of students who allegedly saw the minor and Ms. Yaranga having breakfast at a local establishment in downtown Burlington thought it was inappropriate and raised concerns to principal Mellencamp," Donovan told the station.
According to the Burlington Free Press, Mellencamp told police that Yaranga, who has taught at the high school for 15 years and led school trips to her native Peru, often formed friendships with her students. In comments to the newspaper, Donovan described the case as "an abuse of trust... an abuse of power by Ms. Yaranga."
If convicted on all counts, Yaranga could face up to 20 years in prison.