SCHENECTADY — A former teacher's assistant at Northeast Parent and Child Society admitted Thursday to having sexual contact with a 15-year-old student, a prosecutor said.
Alexandra Culhane, 24, pleaded guilty to one count of third-degree criminal sexual act, a felony.
She is to be sentenced in January to up to six months in jail and 10 years of probation. She will also have to register as a sex offender, prosecutor John Carson said.
Culhane admitted to having sexual contact with the teen in April 2016 in Central Park, Carson said. She was arrested in June.
Prosecutors believe Culhane befriended the teen through her work at the alternative high school. That escalated to an inappropriate friendship and then to a sexual relationship, Carson said.
She communicated with the boy via text message and social media, Carson said. They would then pick a location to meet, or she would pick him up either at his house or down the street from his residence, according to Carson.
The plea agreement, Carson said, spares the teen from having to testify at a trial.
"Today was an important day for the family, in that Ms. Culhane acknowledged she had inappropriate sexual relations with the student," Carson said.
He noted Culhane pursued the relationship through the school, which should be a safe place of learning.
"It was important for the family that she accepted responsibility, and they're relieved that there has been a guilty plea," Carson said.
Judge Kathleen Hogan will decide the final sentence for Culhane after hearing arguments at the January proceedings. Culhane's attorney, Joe Litz, could not be reached for comment.
The investigation began after the school became aware of rumors about the inappropriate relationship and notified law enforcement, Carson said.
The Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs initially investigated, then turned the case over to the Schenectady Police Department for further investigation, Carson said.
The case puts a renewed spotlight on the importance of keeping an eye on teens and their electronic conversations, Carson said.
"It's a good reminder for all parents to be aware of what their kids are doing on their phone," Carson said. "It's the best picture into a teenager's world."
In a statement issued in June — after Culhane's arrest and the unrelated arrest of a teacher on an attempted physical assault charge — Northern Rivers CEO William T. Gettman said that allegations of such behavior result in the immediately removal of the employee from duty, as well as an investigation and notification of the appropriate authorities.
"Nothing is more important than the safety of the children in our care," the June statement read. "The actions referenced in these incidents in no way reflect the values or practices of our organization. This is not who we are."