Covina-Valley school district teachers plead not guilty to sex charges

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. (KABC) -- Two Covina-Valley Unified School District teachers who allegedly provided underage students with alcohol and cocaine during a San Clemente camping trip pleaded not guilty to felony sex charges in a Newport Beach courtroom Wednesday.

Melody Lippert, 38, and Michelle Ghirelli, 30, allegedly provided cocaine and alcohol to five male students during an unapproved school camping trip in December.

Both suspects were charged with one misdemeanor count of contributing to the delinquency of a minor on Feb. 4, but additional sex-related felonies have since been filed following a thorough investigation.

Investigators have learned the women allegedly provided the students with cocaine and engaged in sexual activity. Both suspects now face a felony charge of sex with a minor.

Authorities believe Lippert, who was a teacher at South Hills High School, sent a group text message inviting five male students and Ghirelli, a teacher working in the district office, to a camping trip at San Clemente Beach.

"There were drugs and then marijuana and alcohol heavily involved in everybody's adventure on this beach in San Clemente," said Ghirelli's attorney, Stephan DeSales.

Melody Lippert (left) and Michelle Ghirelli (right) are shown in their mug shots.

Orange County Sheriff's Department

Melody Lippert (left) and Michelle Ghirelli (right) are shown in their mug shots provided by the Orange County Sheriff's Department.

Prosecutors say Lippert allegedly planned the camping trip and had sex with an 18-year-old student.

"Nothing illegal about that, wholly inappropriate, but not illegal," said Deputy District Attorney Kristin Bracic.

Prosecutors, however, allege Lippert set Ghirelli up with a student under 18 years old, which, according to the Orange County District Attorney's Office, carries the same weight as actually having sex with the minor.

"She facilitated the relationship between Ms. Ghirelli and the 17 year old, and therefore she is equally responsible under the law," Bracic said.

A spokesperson for the Covina-Valley Unified School District confirmed both women resigned last week.

Lippert's attorney, Leonard Levine, said his client and Ghirelli are "upset with all the attention."

"Their primary thought is with the students and the school," he said.

Lippert walked quickly and said nothing to reporters as she left her arraignment Wednesday.

"It's way premature to comment on the facts on the case in substance, but suffice to say there's two sides to every story," DeSales said.

Lippert is charged with one felony count of unlawful sexual intercourse and furnishing a controlled substance to a minor, along with a sentencing enhancement for being more than four years older than the victim.

Ghirelli is charged with the same counts, plus a felony count of oral copulation of a minor, and would have to register as a sex offender if convicted.

Lippert faces up to 10 and a half years in state prison. Ghirelli could serve 11 years and eight months. A pretrial hearing is scheduled for April 29.

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