BY ART BUKOWSKI and VANESSA McCRAY
TRAVERSE CITY —
Fred Muller and family had a hard time dealing with the news.
The Mullers are close with Lisa Gaye Placek and her family, and Placek coached Muller's daughter, 2010 Traverse City West Senior High School graduate Gaby Muller, in volleyball.
Now Placek, 45, a well-liked coach and teacher, faces a felony count of criminal sexual conduct after police said she had oral sex with a West sophomore boy. The charge left Fred Muller "100 percent surprised."
"Our first reaction was, 'This can't be,'" he said. "If you lined up 20 people in a room, and Lisa was one of them, you'd say, 'Certainly not her.'"
District Judge Thomas J. Phillips on Monday arraigned Placek on a single count of first-degree criminal sexual conduct. He denied bond, and she remains in the Leelanau County Jail pending a Feb. 10 preliminary examination.
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, Superintendent Steve Cousins said.
Police believe Placek had oral sex with a male student, 15, in her vehicle in Elmwood Township on Dec. 31, court documents show. Authorities won't provide details about what led to the encounter, or if Placek and the student had previous contact.
Cousins said the allegations leave a "deep wound."
"This is probably one of the most injurious experiences you can have as an educator," he said. "These allegations are just shocking, and for anyone who is a teacher or a coach, it just makes you sick."
The district received an anonymous tip late Jan. 19 and contacted police the next day. Placek and the student live in Grand Traverse County, but the Leelanau County Sheriff's Department handled the case because authorities said the incident occurred in Leelanau County.
Leelanau County Prosecutor Joe Hubbell said the first-degree charge is based on a combination of the reported sexual act, the victim's age and the teacher-student relationship. He wouldn't provide additional details.
Leelanau Sheriff Mike Oltersdorf said he was out of the office for much of the investigation and didn't know all of the details, but said the incident didn't appear to be a "forced physical act."
Several Traverse City West students on Monday said teachers didn't discuss the situation during school, but classmates talked about the topic.
Junior Nikki Hollis said she learned information from other people, not teachers who "don't want" students to talk about it.
"It's like a public thing. It affects everyone," she said.
Hollis said Placek taught one of her language arts classes during this school year's first trimester.
"That's why it's so surprising," Hollis said of the allegations.