NEW BRUNSWICK - Students at the high school have expressed concerns after a 29-year-old woman has been charged by police with posing as a student for four days last week.
Hyejeong Shin, a 29-year-old city woman, has been charged with one count of providing a false government document with the intent to verify one’s identity or age, said Deputy Director J.T. Miller of the New Brunswick Police Department on Wednesday.
According to police, Shin used the false document − a birth certificate − to enroll in New Brunswick High School as a student, claiming she was a teenager. She provided the district with the fake document.
This charge is a third-degree offense, Miller said.
On Wednesday, as a result of an in-school fight and the fake document incident, social media showed several posts from students who said they were "concerned for their safety and well-being." Some participated in an impromptu protest.
"Our voices in New Brunswick High School need to be heard," said one post. "What has happened needs to be addressed. A lot of girls including me lifes (sic) were in danger. This school is being ignorant towards it. Something needs to change."
"Where is the protection and the concern?" said another post.
In response to the students protest, video showed the main office was closed. Another post said the principal "looked" at the students "and walked away."
In a statement on Wednesday, New Brunswick Public Schools Superintendent Aubrey Johnson confirmed that an adult woman posing as a student filed false documents and gained access to the high school the week of Jan. 16. He informed the Board of Education of this incident during Tuesday night's Board of Education meeting.
"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," Johnson said. "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."
According to Miller, pursuant to state statutes (18a:36-25.1) and guidance from the New Jersey Departmentof Education (NJDOE), schools are required to immediately enroll unaccompanied children, even in theabsence of records normally required for enrollment.
"Proof of guardianship is not necessary to immediately enroll an unaccompanied child or youth," Miller said. "Although a school district might request documents such as a birth certificate to verify a child’s age, a school district may not prevent or discourage a child, including an unaccompanied child, from enrolling in or attending school because he or she lacks a birth certificate or has records that indicate a foreign place of birth, such as a foreign birth certificate."
Johnson said that once the staff "determined it was dealing with fraudulent information," they immediately notified the appropriate authorities. According to a letter sent to the school community Tuesday, Shin attended classes at the high school "for less than a week."
"The individual in question has now been charged," Johnson said. "Because an investigation of the situation continues, requests for additional details should be directed to the New Brunswick Police Department. 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."
Several students and parents attended Tuesday's Board of Education meeting to ask about the incident, but as per a district policy adopted October 2021, those that wish to speak must sign up 24 hours in advance of the meeting with the Board Secretary.
The revelation of the incident and timing of the arrest did not allow for that, students and parents said.
Though they were not allowed to speak before the board, several students and adults made their concerns known, as the woman had been in the school for four days. Apparently, Shin had befriended several students, exchanging phone number and social media information.
The students said they have questions about the woman's motivation for posing as a student and are concerned that they may have been in danger. Some said the woman could have been a front for a human trafficking organization.
Students added that they have been told by the district not to communicate with Shin if she attempts to contact them further. The letter sent to the community by Johnson "cautions all students − particularly those who may have encountered this woman while she was in the high school − to refrain from having any further contact with her, either remotely, or in person."
"Also, we applaud those staff members who uncovered this woman's ruse, this enabling us to address the situation properly," Johnson said in Tuesday's district letter.
Though students and parents were not able to speak at the Board of Education meeting, they were directed by board members to contact Johnson at his office. Johnson's letter also directed community members to contact their school principal should they have additional questions.
At the board meeting, Johnson and members agreed that a review of the district’s enrollment procedures was appropriate as a result of the incident.
Cheryl Makin is an award-winning features and education reporter for MyCentralJersey.com, part of the USA Today Network. Contact: Cmakin@gannettnj.com or @CherylMakin. To get unlimited access, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: New Brunswick NJ high school student imposter charged, concerns raised