BY ART BUKOWSKI
TRAVERSE CITY —
Kelly Hall believes it's probably for the best that Lisa Placek won't go to trial on a felony count of first-degree criminal sexual conduct.
Placek, a former teacher and coach at Traverse City West Senior High School, pleaded guilty on Thursday to a lesser count of assault with intent to commit sexual penetration. Police said she had oral sex with a West sophomore boy in December.
Hall, president of Traverse City Area Public Schools' Board of Education, said the incident was tough on everyone involved. A trial would mean more stress for the victim, Placek and both of their families.
"A lot of people were hurt, and I'm glad they don't have to go through a trial," she said.
Placek could face up to 10 years in prison when she's sentenced on March 21. She was released on bond Thursday after her guilty plea.
Leelanau County Prosecutor Joe Hubbell hopes the plea will help the victim.
"It substantiates what the victim said happened, so people know he's not just making things up," Hubbell said. "One reason for a plea is you get a person to say, 'Yes, I did it.'"
The Dec. 31 incident happened in Placek's vehicle in Leelanau County's Elmwood Township. Authorities refuse to provide details about what led up to the crime.
Placek was charged in January with first-degree criminal sexual conduct, which carries a possible penalty of life in prison. Hubbell believes the plea to the lesser count eliminates the risk of Placek being acquitted at trial.
"We didn't have a statement from her," he said. "We could go to trial, and it could be a he-said, she-said type of situation."
Placek isn't getting off easy, Hubbell said. She lost her job, will go to prison and upon her release will be a registered sex offender with a felony conviction, he said.
"This is not a slap on the wrist," he said.
Placek's attorney, Patrick Heintz, of Traverse City, said Placek wants to move on. He wouldn't comment on her decision to take a plea, or provide details about what led up to the December incident.
"It's very traumatic for all parties involved," he said.
Placek worked for Traverse City Area Public Schools as a volleyball coach since 1997 and as a teacher since 1999. She most recently served as varsity volleyball coach at West, where she also taught French and language arts. She was placed on leave on Jan. 20 and resigned from the district Jan. 24.
TCAPS Superintendent Steve Cousins said he was not surprised by the plea. The district is more focused on helping students, he said.
"We've turned our focus on making sure kids make it through this. Once she terminated employment, that's been our focus," he said. "I trust the courts to do their job. I trust the prosecutor and police to do their job that justice is met in this situation."
Cousins said the incident underscored the importance of maintaining appropriate relationships between students and staff members, but in retrospect, he said there was not much the district could have done to prevent the assault.
"This is a situation where an individual chose to really violate a pretty basic trust outside of school time. I don't know what else we'd be able to do," he said.
Record-Eagle reporter James Russell contributed to this report.