Update: 28-year-old posing as teenager enrolled in high school to learn English

Published 10:37 am Thursday, June 15, 2023

LULING — Following the arrest of a 28-year-old woman posing as a 17-year-old student at Hahnville High School, Sheriff Greg Champagne assured concerned residents there is no evidence anything “dangerous or inappropriate” occurred.

Early this week, detectives were notified by officials with St. Charles Parish Public Schools of a possible adult attending school. Through investigation, police learned Martha Jessenia Gutierrez-Serrano had been enrolled in school using a fraudulent passport and birth certificate and had attended classes for the entire 2022-23 school year.

Gutierrez-Serrano, 28, and her mother, 46-year-old Marta Elizeth Serrano- Alvarado, were arrested Tuesday and charged with one count each of injuring public records. Sheriff Champagne and Superintendent Ken Oertling addressed the public during a press conference Wednesday to provide more information about the arrests.

“This is a somewhat unusual situation. It’s not the crime of the century,” Champagne said. “The big question is, why was she doing this? Is there something nefarious going on? The answer to that, based upon everything we know, is no. She was in school, minded her own business, did her school work, caused no trouble, was not a disciplinary problem… The information that we got about the reason for her doing this is simple. She wanted to become proficient in English.”

Gutierrez-Serrano was enrolled into Hahnville High School on June 18, 2022. Records indicate she came into the United States late in the fall of 2021. A processing photo was taken by the U.S. government before she was legally released into the country. Her mother has been in the United States for “a number of years,” according to Champagne, and had a visa status at some point.

Gutierrez-Serrano was not involved in any extracurricular activities during the school year. She was placed in the ninth grade due to not having transcripts at the time she enrolled.

While booking photos of the mother and daughter could not be publicly released due to legislation that went into effect last year, Champagne said he viewed a photo of the woman and agreed that she could easily be mistaken for a teenager.

“I’m not surprised at all, based upon appearances alone, that she was certainly accepted at face value for the age that was on the falsified birth certificate,” Champagne said.

Superintendent Oertling said St. Charles Parish Public Schools have established policies and procedures for student enrollment there in line with state standards. Moving forward, an audit will be conducted on enrollment documents for all current students, and the school system will provide additional required training for school and district level employees focused on recognizing the signs of potentially fraudulent documents.

“It is my sincere hope that this incident will bring additional awareness to school systems in Louisiana and throughout or country on the need to review and enhance our student enrollment policies,” Oertling said.

Champagne said Gutierrez-Serrano could have taken advantage of adult education and ESL programs offered in the community.

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

Anyone with information relating to this investigation is urged to contact Sgt. Allan Tabora at 985-783-6807, 985-783-1159, or via email at atabora@stcharlessheriff.org.