Former teacher's aide admits to inappropriate relationship

By CARL HESSLER Jr.
For The Times Herald

COURTHOUSE — A former 29-year-old teacher's aide at North Penn High School admitted Wednesday to having an inappropriate emotional relationship with one of her 16-year-old male students.

Wearing a dark business suit and pink blouse, Michelle Elizabeth Zulkowsky, of the 100 block of Longleat Drive, Montgomery Township, pleaded guilty in Montgomery County Court to misdemeanor charges of corruption of a minor and endangering the welfare of a child in connection with incidents that occurred between January and April of 2008.

Judge William R. Carpenter, who accepted a plea agreement, sentenced Zulkowsky to five years' probation. Carpenter said the probationary period can be reduced to three years if Zulkowsky remains arrest free and completes the counseling program she has already begun.

The judge prohibited her from having any contact with the student during the probationary period.

The probationary sentence was within state sentencing guidelines.

"She understands she's made a mistake. She's sorry for any inconvenience it caused the student. She's very sorry and she's in counseling," defense lawyer Brian E. Quinn said on Zulkowsky's behalf.

Authorities pointed out that the investigation began after Zulkowsky reported her conduct to a third party and a referral was made to child social service officials, who then alerted police.

"This case was about her developing feelings for a student that are inappropriate for a student-teacher relationship," said Assistant District Attorney Todd Stephens. "Fortunately, she recognized that, reported that, stopped all contact with the student and immediately sought counseling. For a defendant, she has done everything right since her arrest for this conduct."

"She's never going to be a teacher's aide again. She's going to have to find another line of work," Stephens added.

Zulkowsky, according to the allegations, and the boy touched one another outside their clothing. There was never an allegation of any sexual contact, according to court papers.

"According to (the boy), Zulkowsky wrote him poems and gave him one on Valentine's Day about "secret love" along with CDs by Spanish musicians," Towamencin Detective Walter Hulik wrote in the arrest affidavit.

Zulkowsky allegedly held hands with the student, gave photos of herself to the boy and wrote poems to the boy while she supervised him in a 10th grade English as a Second Language class.

The boy told police he and Zulkowsky touched one another's hands, legs and thighs.

"But the casual contact, coupled with love poems and the Valentine's Day gift, crossed the line and made this a crime. She developed emotional feelings for a student beyond what an ordinary student-teacher relationship should be," Stephens said. "She committed a crime but she recognized she had a problem before her crimes became more serious."

With the charges, authorities alleged Zulkowsky violated the trust that was placed in her by engaging in acts that would corrupt the morals of a minor.

In court papers, authorities alleged Zulkowsky did not have any control over her feelings for the student.

Zulkowsky allegedly told detectives that her interest in the student began in January 2008 and that she told him that she loved him and that she wanted to be with him. Describing her relationship with the boy as an "emotional connection," Zulkowsky told police she and the boy spoke "about life, what he did on weekends and our feelings for each other," according to the arrest affidavit.

The student, according to a criminal complaint, described touching Zulkowsky during class when she would sit next to him. On one occasion, when the boy tried to kiss Zulkowsky on the lips, she turned away and he kissed her on the cheek, detectives alleged.

The boy claimed to authorities that Zulkowsky told him that she wanted to get together during the summer and have sex with him, the arrest affidavit alleged.

Even if the boy didn't object to the conduct, it's irrelevant, authorities said. As an adult, Zulkowsky was in a position of trust and was responsible for making sure her conduct didn't violate the law, authorities said.

School district officials previously said Zulkowsky was employed by the district since January 2007, at which time she provided all the required clearances.

Zulkowsky resigned from her job on April 18, 2008.

When detectives went to the high school on April 17 to speak with Zulkowsky about her relationship with the boy, authorities discovered she had in her purse a Swiss Army knife that contained two blades, according to court papers.

The knife and blades are prohibited on school property.

On Wednesday, Zulkowsky, who originally was charged with possessing a weapon on school property, pleaded guilty to a summary charge of disorderly conduct in connection with the incident and was fined $25.

Source: http://www.timesherald.com/articles/2009/04/10/news/doc49dec0f764546465861844.txt