California teachers charged with giving students alcohol on beach trip

Reuters News
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Posted: Feb 05, 2015 4:19 PM

By Michael Fleeman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Two female Southern California high school teachers initially accused of inappropriate sexual contact with two male students during a beach camping trip will face misdemeanor charges over accusations they provided alcohol to minors, prosecutors said on Thursday.

Melody Suzanne Lippert, 38, and Michelle Louise Ghirelli, 30, each face a maximum sentence of one year in jail on charges of contributing to the delinquency of a minor over accusations they gave alcohol to underage students, the Orange County District Attorney's Office said.

The teachers were not charged with offenses relating to the sex allegations because prosecutors found insufficient evidence to prove sex charges at trial. The prosecutor's office said in a statement that the investigation continues “and additional charges could be filed at a later date."

The two educators were initially arrested last month over accusations that Lippert met a group of students from South Hills High in suburban West Covina, where she is a teacher, at the beach in November, gave them alcohol and had sex with an 18-year-old male student, according to police.

Several weeks later, police said, Lippert and Ghirelli had an overnight camping trip at the same beach with some of the students, and Lippert had sex again with the 18-year-old while Ghirelli had sex with an underage student. Police did not give the younger student's age.

The delinquency charges stem from accusations linked to an unsanctioned overnight trip to San Clemente State Beach, prosecutors said.

Lippert is accused of having sent a group text message inviting fellow teacher Ghirelli and five male students to the trip. Then, between Dec. 27 and Dec. 29, the teachers gave alcohol to the underage students while on the trip, prosecutors said.

The teachers, who were placed on administrative leave from their jobs last month, will be arraigned on the misdemeanor charges on Friday in Orange County Superior Court in Newport Beach.

Another teacher at the same school, Sean Patrick Kane, who teaches art, was suspended last month after ranting on Facebook that the male students should have kept their “stupid mouths shut” about the experience, officials have said.

Neither of the two female teachers could immediately be reached for comment, and prosecutors said they did not immediately know who the women had retained as counsel.

(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Eric Walsh)