Traverse City Record-Eagle

December 16, 2012

Newsmakers: TCAPS adds training after sex crime

Many teachers still haven't taken the online safety course

BY MICHAEL WALTON
mwalton@record-eagle.com

Editor's note: Part of a series of stories about people, places and events that made news in the Grand Traverse region in 2012.

TRAVERSE CITY — Traverse City Area Public Schools officials cringed in disappointment when news of a sexual encounter between a female teacher and an underage male student surfaced in January, Superintendent Stephen Cousins acknowledged.

"This is a huge hit for a high school, a district," Cousins said. "It's a huge wound for staff, for students and for parents."

Lisa Placek, a former West Senior High School teacher and volleyball coach, remains in prison after she pleaded guilty to a criminal charge from the December 2011 encounter. Placek engaged in oral sex with the boy, 15 at the time, in her car behind a Subway restaurant in Elmwood Township.

Police reports indicate the two exchanged text messages — some sexual in nature, some including nude pictures of each other — for a prolonged period prior to the incident.

The district subsequently adopted training programs and presentations about staff-student relationships in an effort to prevent such problems, but many district teachers have not taken the training.

Those measures include web-based safety training provided by a TCAPS' insurance provider. The program, called SafeSchools, deals in part with maintaining clear and professional boundaries between employees and students.

District bus drivers, maintenance and janitorial employees, and food service employees have participated in the program.

Cousins said the district needs to negotiate with teachers to implement those new programs.

Placek taught in the district for more than 10 years before she resigned in January.

TCAPS' Human Resources Department is organizing a plan to show all teachers the new material.

"Our next step is putting it together for the rest," said Christine Davis, the district's human resources director.

Cousins said training programs will help keep students safe.

"There is always going to be a requirement that we are trusting professionals that work with children to help keep them physically and mentally safe," Cousins said. "That trust part of the equation is so important."

Placek originally faced a first-degree felony charge of criminal sexual conduct. She pleaded to a lesser count of assault with intent to commit sexual penetration.

Leelanau County Prosecutor Joe Hubbell declined comment on the plea deal.

"I really don't want to rehash this case," he said. "Enough is enough."

In March 13th Circuit Court Judge Thomas G. Power sentenced Placek to a minimum of 23 months and a maximum of 10 years in prison.

She remains incarcerated in the Women's Huron Valley Correctional Facility, located in Ypsilanti.

The earliest date possible for her release is Jan. 17, 2014, according to a Michigan Department of Corrections online inmate database.

Cousins said no additional students have approached the district alleging abuse at the hands of Placek.