URBANA — A former teacher’s assistant at an Urbana school for children with behavioral difficulties has been charged with sexually assaulting a student.
Allyssa E. Gustafson, 23, of Mattoon, formerly of Champaign, was arraigned Tuesday on one count of criminal sexual assault, a Class 1 felony. The charge filed Friday alleges that between March 1 and Aug. 30, Gustafson had sex with a 14-year-old male student at the Circle Academy in Urbana, where she was employed.
The school, an educational program of the Cunningham Children’s Home, serves students in kindergarten through high school with behavioral and emotional challenges that prevent them from being in traditional public school settings.
Assistant State’s Attorney Kristin Alferink said the alleged encounter between Gustafson and the teen occurred at his Champaign home.
If convicted, Gustafson faces penalties ranging from four to 15 years in prison and she would have to serve 85 percent of any sentence.
Alferink said the case was investigated by Champaign police, who learned that Gustafson and the teen communicated through Facebook Messenger, and later via Snapchat. In the messages, Gustafson expressed concern that others at the school may have found out about their alleged encounters. Police also discovered that Gustafson allegedly sent the teen photos of herself in lingerie and a swimsuit.
The boy’s mother saw the photos and said she remembered seeing Gustafson at their home once but thought that she was a high school senior.
The last messages from Gustafson to the alleged victim instructed him to delete their exchanges and told him she would have to block him.
On Friday, when he issued the warrant for her arrest, Judge Adam Dill set bond at $250,000. However, on Tuesday, Gustafson’s lawyer, Mark Lipton of Champaign, urged the judge to lower that, saying that he and Gustafson had been aware of the investigation for about a month and that she has complied with Department of Children and Family Services directives concerning her own child.
Lipton said his client, who no longer works at Circle Academy, is working part-time and doing volunteer work as well. Court documents indicate she is currently working at two area fast-food restaurants and was living with a relative in Mattoon.
Alferink objected to the bond reduction, saying Gustafson was in a position of authority over him.
She said police had information that Gustafson and the teen had sex about five times toward the end of last school year. The prosecutor noted that her office had filed only one criminal count against Gustafson, but if it chooses to add others, and she is convicted, the sentences for each count would have to be served one after the other.
She also said the office was “concerned” that Gustafson had directed the youth to destroy evidence of their relationship.
Dill agreed to lower Gustafson’s bond to $100,000, meaning she needs to post $10,000 in cash to be released from jail.
He told her to have no contact with the youth or his home and to be back in court Dec. 3.
Ginger Mills, director of advancement for Cunningham Children’s Home, said Gustafson was employed at Circle Academy between March 4 and Sept. 14, and had passed the institution’s hiring and background checks. Mills said Gustafson was a teacher’s assistant in the high school.