DES MOINES, Iowa -- A Des Moines teacher on leave for the past month won't be returning the classroom. That's because police say she sexually abused a 14-year-old student.
Makenzie Johnson, 38, a former teacher at Harding Middle School is now facing serious charges after Des Moines police say she sexually abused a 14-year-old boy student.
Sgt. Paul Parizek with the Des Moines Police Department tells Channel 13 that Johnson turned herself in early Friday morning and was booked into the Polk County Jail. She is charged with lascivious acts with a child-solicitation, third-degree sex abuse, assault with intent to commit sexual abuse, dissemination of obscene materials to a minor, and two counts of solicitation to commit a felony.
According to criminal complaints in the case, the charges stem from incidents going back to November of 2018. While Johnson was giving the 14-year-old victim a ride home from a sporting event in 2018, she pulled over into a parking lot and allegedly placed her hand on the victim's thigh and rubbed his penis over his clothes. She then asked if she could perform oral sex on him and he declined.
The complaint also said Johnson sent the victim nude topless photos of herself using Snapchat.
Another incident happened at Johnson's home in March or April, when she and the victim were watching TV. Johnson allegedly touched the victim's thigh and the victim told her to move her hand because it made him uncomfortable. Johnson then asked if the victim wanted to have sex and if she could perform oral sex on him. The complaint says nothing more happened in the incident because Johnson's husband unexpectedly walked into the room.
Johnson made her first appearance in jail court Friday morning. The judge ordered that she not have any contact with minors under the age of 18.
Des Moines Public Schools released a statement saying they are working with law enforcement and Johnson is no longer employed by the district she resigned May 17.
The school district notified Harding Middle School families about the incident this morning. In the statement, Harding Principal Joy Linquist said:
"There has been an on-going criminal investigation over the past several weeks involving one of our former teachers, Makenzie Johnson. She was arrested today and charged with sexual abuse involving a student.
While I cannot go into details about the victim, I can confirm that the abuse involved one student who was not in her classroom or a current student at Harding.
The school district’s human resources office placed Johnson on leave as soon as they were made aware of the criminal complaint and investigation in mid-April, meaning she could not and has not returned to Harding. This was prior to any charges being filed. She resigned from her position two weeks ago.
We share your concerns. This is an extremely serious matter, which is why the school district took the action it did immediately and has been working with law enforcement in their investigation.
If you have any concerns or questions please feel free to contact me."
Liz Cox, the executive director of Prevent Child Abuse Iowa, says this type of incident hurts the whole community.
“Parents should be worried and concerned. It`s the school`s responsibility to create a safe learning environment for every student and when these things happen it not only impacts the student it impacts their family and it also impacts the school community,” said Cox.
Cox says schools should be spending a lot more time talking about sexual abuse and it should be as common as tornado and intruder drills.
“Training our adults, parents and teachers, coaches and administrators, to understand and recognize boundary violating behaviors and how to respond is the number one thing that we can do to reduce the risk that this is going to happen again,” said Cox.