28-year-old woman allegedly enrolls at high school as 17-year-old to learn English: Sheriff

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(BOUTE, La.) — A 28-year-old woman has been arrested for allegedly posing as a 17-year-old student and attending a Louisiana high school throughout this school year, authorities said.

Martha Jessenia Gutierrez-Serrano, 28, who was placed in the ninth grade, allegedly pretended to be a teenager so she could learn English, St. Charles Parish Sheriff Greg Champagne said at a news conference Wednesday.

“She was in school, she minded her own business, she did her schoolwork, she caused no trouble,” the sheriff said. “She wanted to learn English.”

Gutierrez-Serrano, 28, and her mother, Marta Elizeth Serrano-Alvarado, 46, both of Boutte, Louisiana, were each charged Tuesday with one count of injuring public records, the St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office said.

Serrano-Alvarado allegedly used a fraudulent passport and birth certificate to enroll her 28-year-daughter at Hahnville High School in Boutte during the 2022-2023 school year, according to the sheriff’s office.

Boute is about 25 miles west of New Orleans.

School officials launched an investigation after getting “a tip that a female student, who was on record as being 17 years old, was in fact an adult possibly in her mid 20’s,” the sheriff’s office said. School officials then relayed their findings to the authorities on May 29, the sheriff’s office said.

The fraudulent birth certificate, from Honduras, “looked just like a real birth certificate,” the sheriff said.

“Whether you’re a U.S. citizen, a foreign national, some type of immigrant — no matter what status — students are entitled a role in our public school system,” Champagne said. “Inquiring about their immigration status is not done.”

The mother, Serrano-Alvarado, had been in the U.S. for “a number of years” and had an expired visa, the sheriff said. Her daughter, Gutierrez-Serrano, arrived in the U.S. in fall 2021, and the sheriff said, based on a photo taken at that time, she could “very easily be taken for a young teenager.”

She “wanted to become proficient in English and perhaps further her education, which I think we can all be sympathetic with,” Champagne said. “Unfortunately, whether it was her decision or her mother’s decision, it’s certainly bad judgment to submit a falsified document to the government.”

The St. Charles Parish school district said in a statement it “will enhance processes to determine the authenticity of enrollment documents for current and future students as well as modify policy and procedures as warranted.”

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