Last week, the woman tried to enroll using fake documents and went to class for four days before being booted, Superintendent Aubrey Johnson told the Board of Education, according to New Brunswick Today.
“By filing false documents, an adult female posing as a student was able to be enrolled in our high school,” the superintendent said during a meeting of the board on 24 January.
“She was here for four days before being found out, and barred from entering the district property,” he said. “All appropriate authorities were immediately notified, and the individual in question has now been arrested for providing false documentation.”
The woman has been identified as Hyejeong Shin.
The high school has been the subject of several scandals through the years, such as a 17-year-old being sentenced to 60 days after an attack at the school was filmed in 2016, and a 14-year-old student being charged after sending a text threatening a mass shooting in 2021.
Members of the community are worried about the motive of the 29-year-old woman, who pretended to be 15. The school district has told students who met her to cease their communications with her, and some students have grown concerned that she was attempting to get young people into sex work, New Brunswick Today reported.
The Board of Education attempted to smooth over the issue at the 24 January meeting, blocking students and parents from speaking about the episode at the meeting.
The six members of the board didn’t directly respond to the allegations at the meeting, according to the local news outlet. In a unanimous vote, they approved the report put forward by the superintendent and didn’t mention the issue again.
The woman’s claims of being 15 were investigated after it remained unclear who her parents or legal guardian was.
On her final day at the school before being removed, she was questioned by officials. She allegedly requested to sign herself out of the school but was told that she couldn’t leave the premises because she was a minor, at which point she finally revealed that she was actually 29, New Brunswick Today reported.
“We’re going to take a look at our process … in terms of how to better look for fake documentation and other things,” Dr Johnson said.
“We feel so unsafe and nobody wants to listen to us,” student Ethan Calderon told New Brunswick Today. “Do they not care about us because we’re minorities?”
Another student, Tatianna, told the outlet that she received a text from the individual at 10.56pm on Monday.
“I was in class with this woman, and talked to her, walked her from point A to point B, and never expected this to happen,” she said. “Not knowing she was a 29-year-old woman makes me question how safe I am in this building.”
She added that she was “taken advantage of” and that she shouldn’t have provided the woman with her “personal information”.
Michael Castro told the newspaper that he had been made aware that the woman’s intention was to “lure kids to a specific street in New Brunswick and possibly traffic them”.
“It was so easy for her to engage with these students, teachers, and faculty members because no one ever did a thorough investigation of where this woman came from,” he said. “This is a wake-up call to do better and ensure the safety of students in New Brunswick.”
In a statement provided to The Independent, Dr Johnson said, “following the established protocols that are part of our vetting process, members of our staff discovered the deception and promptly barred her from entering any district property.
“As background, state law prohibits a student being prevented from attending school based on lack of documentation or immigration status. As a result, a student requesting admission without being able to prove their identity must be provisionally admitted to the school. From that point, the student has 30 days to provide information that confirms their identity or the school district will have the option of declaring them ineligible to attend classes.
“Once our staff determined it was dealing with fraudulent information, they immediately notified the appropriate authorities. The individual in question has now been charged.”
“The wellbeing of our students, staff, and community are of utmost importance to us, and we will continue working with the police department and our other partners in addressing this matter,” the superintendent concluded.
On Wednesday, New Brunswick police said in a press release that Hyejeong Shin, 29, has been charged with one count of providing a false government document with the intent to verify one’s identity or age.
“Specifically, Ms Shin provided a false birth certificate to the New Brunswick Board of Education with the intent to enroll as a juvenile high-school student,” police said.
“Schools are required to immediately enroll unaccompanied children, even in the absence of records normally required for enrollment,” they added.
In a 27 January statement to parents and guardians shared with The Independent, Dr Johnson noted that “unaccompanied children” have “30 days to provide information confirming their identity” after being enrolled.
“The individual in question submitted a fraudulent birth certificate to us,” he said, adding that “soon after these fake documents were filed, our staff recognized irregularities and began investigating. Within only three days, we were able to verify they were fake and immediately notified authorities”.
“I’m sure all of you are curious about the motives of this individual, as I am,” the superintendent told parents and guardians. “This is, however, a matter for law enforcement officials and we must allow their investigation to take its course.”