She was supposed to be his mentor and high school Spanish teacher. Now Giovanna Yaranga, 44, is facing four felony counts of sexual exploitation of a minor.
"This is an abuse of trust. It's an abuse of power by Ms. Yaranga," said Chittenden County State's Attorney T.J. Donovan.
Donovan said the relationship unraveled on April 29 when a Burlington Police officer spotted Yaranga and a 17-year-old male in the backseat of her car. They were parked behind the Maltex building on Pine Street at night.
"Because she's a teacher, because she has this control and authority over her students, because there are parents in this community who have students, the public's got a right to know," Donovan said.
The 17-year-old honors student at Burlington High told police he has taken several classes with Yaranga -- even traveling with her to Peru on a school trip. He described Yaranga as a "second mother" he could talk to. But also said they've had sex about 10 times since last fall -- setting up meetings via text message -- then allegedly engaging in sexual acts in Yaranga's car, area hotels and the victim's home.
Yaranga pled not guilty and told police the boy is confused. She claims she encouraged him to date people his own age -- even her daughter.
"This is a woman -- by all accounts -- was a good teacher, was respected in the community and it's a case that certainly I think a lot of people are going to be asking themselves why or how could this have happened," Donovan said.
In a statement, Burlington's Superintendent called the case deeply upsetting:
"... the safety of our students is the District's priority. The District had no evidence of physical improprieties or sexual misconduct by Ms. Yaranga. The faculty, staff and administration are well aware of their obligations as mandatory reporters of child abuse and have and will continue to fully comply with those requirements."
But did the school do all the could to protect this student? According to court paperwork, Principal Amy Mellencamp did not seem surprised when police informed her about the allegations.
"It's all about who knew what, when," Donovan said.
Mellencamp told police she just warned Yaranga the previous day about her relationship with the victim after multiple parents complained about the two dining together in public. Police are continuing to investigate if there are other victims.
Yaranga is on paid administrative leave while the criminal case plays out. If convicted, she faces up to 20 years in prison. The school district said its conducting its own internal investigation. They sent a letter out to parents Monday afternoon explaining the situation and asking parents to call the Chittenden Unit for Special Investigations if they have additional information.
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