Former student accosted by teacher sues APS for damages

The victim of an inappropriate relationship with a former special education teacher for Alpena Public Schools (APS) has filed a civil lawsuit against the district and four educators seeking damages.

The 22-page suit is seeking civil relief from the school district and those educators, and arises out of what the lawsuit claims are “the heinous acts of Heather Winfield, a Thunder Bay Junior High School special education teacher, and the Alpena School District’s abysmal failure to protect an 11 year-old student.”

Winfield and the boy allegedly had a relationship between July 2016 and June 2018 when the victim was between the ages of 11 and 13. Winfield was convicted of accosting a child for immoral purposes following a 10-day jury trial in 2021 for having what the court called an inappropriate relationship with the boy, who turned 19 years-old earlier this month. She was acquitted of much more serious crimes, including five counts of criminal sexual conduct in the first, second and third degree.

The civil lawsuit filed in federal court essentially accuses APS and the four educators of failing to protect the child, ignoring evidence that a relationship was taking place between the victim and Winfield, and failing to protect the boy from being sexually harassed and bullied by his peers after Winfield resigned her position at APS.

The suit is asking for a jury trial and seeking an unspecified monetary award for emotional damages, economic damages, pain and suffering, punitive damages and more.

The four APS educators named in the suit include Steven Genshaw, former principal at the junior high, Justin Gluesing, former director of human resources, Jean Kowalski, current principal at Hinks Elementary School and former assistant principal at the junior high, and Julie Kieliszewski, a former teacher at the junior high.

When asked about the pending civil suit, Superintendent David Rabbideau, who was not working for APS when Winfield was employed, said “The district has no comment on the matter.”

There are at least two accusations in the civil lawsuit that were not part of the prosecutor’s criminal case, including a claim that on several occasions Winfield raped the student inside Thunder Bay Junior High classrooms while school was in session; and that an unnamed APS librarian instruction assistant at the junior high reported to police that Winfield had engaged in an inappropriate relationship with another young boy approximately six years prior to her relationship with the victim, and that despite this, APS did nothing to protect the victim or other students from Winfield.

Winfield was sentenced to nine months in jail on the accosting charge, placed on five-years probation and required to register as a sex offender for 25 years. She claimed the victim lied about their relationship and that she was “addicted” to helping the troubled boy become all he could be.

Jonathan Marko is the lead attorney for the victim. He told True North Radio Network that it is likely Winfield will be deposed as part of the lawsuit. Marko was not sure whether Winfield would actually take the stand during trial if a trial is ultimately held.