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Crime

Special Education Teacher’s Aide Accused of Sexually Abusing a 15-Year-Old Student

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Alexandra Culhane

A former special education teacher’s aide in New York state is accused of having sex with a 15-year-old male student she met while at work, authorities tell PEOPLE.

Alexandra Culhane, 24, was arrested and charged Monday with third-degree felony rape and third-degree felony criminal sex act. Both felonies can carry sentences of up to four years in prison.

Culhane has not entered a plea to her charges and her lawyer could not immediately be reached for comment. According to prosecutors, she was released from custody on her own recognizance and is next scheduled to appear in court on July 3.

Efforts to reach her directly for comment were not successful Wednesday.

Authorities say Culhane worked full-time as a teacher’s aide at The School at Northeast — a special education school for children in grades six to 12 in Schenectady, New York — when she met the teen student she allegedly abused.

Culhane allegedly had oral sex and intercourse with the student in April 2016 in a park, Schenectady County, New York, Assistant District Attorney John Carson tells PEOPLE.

“The people’s theory of the case is that Culhane and the victim in this matter first became acquainted through her employment,” Carson says. “She was a teacher’s assistant at a school, and we believe she met the victim through her employment where he was enrolled as a student.”

Culhane was hired at The School at Northeast in late 2015 and was suspended in October 2016, during the course of the investigation. She was fired in February.

“We take every allegation very seriously and immediately take action,” said William T. Gettman, CEO of Northern Rivers Family of Services, which operates The School at Northeast.

“We do everything in our power to keep the children in our care safe. One incident of this type is too many, and we hold ourselves accountable,” Gettman said in a statement to PEOPLE. “The actions referenced in these incidents in no way reflect the values or practices of our organization. This is not who we are.”

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Gettman said that Culhane went through “the normal agency application procedure,” which included a background check, fingerprinting and screening with state databases, including sex offender registries.

Bob Hanlon, a spokesman for the Scotia-Glenville School District in Schenectady, says Culhane had previously worked as a coach for the junior varsity girl’s field hockey team at Scotia-Glenville High School.

“She worked for three months in the fall of 2015 and three months in the fall of 2016,” he tells PEOPLE. “It is an annual appointment, so she had to come back every year to be appointed.”

Hanlon says Culhane was also a former student at the high school before she became a coach.

“We have never had any issues with this young lady,” he says. “She was also a student here and she has had no issues at all during this time. We had no complaints. If this didn’t happen, she probably would have been a candidate for … coach again.”