The 29-year-old woman charged with presenting a false birth certificate in January to pose as a high school student has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
During her second court appearance on Monday, Hyejeong Shin pleaded not guilty to charges that carry a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment.
In January, the Rutgers University graduate enrolled at New Brunswick High School in New Jersey by posing as a 15-year-old. She attended for four days before she was arrested for providing false documents.
One of Shin’s lawyers, Darren M. Gelber, called the situation “bizarre,” adding that “it may be difficult for people to understand.”
Gelber explained that Shin had moved to the U.S. from South Korea at age 16 to attend a private boarding school. Following a recent divorce, she felt lonely and longed to replicate her childhood experience.
“At no time was anyone or any student in danger and this entire case is more about my client wanting to return to a place of safety and welcoming and an environment that she looks back on fondly,” he told ABC 7.
Shin was banned from entering the school grounds but continued to text students, even requesting to meet them outside of school.
Shin’s lawyers argued that she had no intention of causing harm to students, faculty or staff. However, students expressed their concerns about the situation to a New Brunswick Today reporter after they were not permitted to speak at Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting.
Tatiana, a student at the school who initially wanted to help Shin “feel comfortable in a new school,” reported receiving a text from Shin the night before she was arrested that made her feel frightened for her safety.
“As soon as I saw the message, I blocked the number and couldn’t fall asleep for the next two hours,” she said. “I’m scared she could be lurking around the corner and easily take me from my house. If she has the ability to falsify documents, enter a public high school, have close contact with young students, she has the ability to do anything.”
The New Brunswick Police released a statement earlier saying that their investigation had not uncovered any evidence of ill intent behind Shin’s enrollment in the school.
Shin hopes to participate in a pre-trial intervention program that would allow her to avoid jail time and clear her record after completing probation.
Following the resolution of her case, she plans to return to South Korea. Her next court appearance is scheduled for May 15.