No charges to be filed against Coloma teacher who gave John Green book to students

NOW: No charges to be filed against Coloma teacher who gave John Green book to students

BERRIEN COUNTY, Mich. - The Berrien County Prosecutor's Office will not pursue charges against the Coloma teacher who gave her students copies of "Looking for Alaska" because the prosecutor cannot prove the teacher committed a crime.

Prosecutor Steven Pierangeli said sections of the booked submitted for review raise some concerns due to their graphic nature but that ultimately, "I cannot say that the actions of Ms. Cattes were criminal in nature."

"They may have been ill-advised, but that is a determination for the school to make and any ramifications must be handled by the school as they see appropriate," he said.

According to Pierangeli, the material must be "harmful to minors" according to Michigan statutes, laid out in MCL 722.676.

To be harmful to minors, the material has to meet all of the following:

  • Appealing to the prurient interest of minors as determined by contemporary local community standards
  • Patently offensive to contemporary local community standards of adults as to what is suitable for minors
  • Lacking, when considered as a whole, any serious literary, artistic, political, educational and scientific value for minors

Though it may be offensive to certain people, a section of the community does not meet the definition of "local community standards," Pierangeli said.

The teacher involved has given students books ahead of the Christmas break for the past 10 years, and offered numerous books from which students could choose, according to the prosecutor. "Looking for Alaska" was one of the choices.

The book has also been available to students at the Coloma Middle School Library for at least 10 years.

No criminal action will be taken against the teacher.

Any ramifications from the incident will be handled internally by the school district.

Read the full letter below:

Coloma Community School District Superintendent David Ehlers released the following statement:

“Coloma Community Schools remains focused on providing a high-quality learning experience for its students. We will continue to review our policies and procedures to ensure parents remain engaged in their children's educational experience. While we can't provide information on personnel matters, we can say that we are grateful to have a dedicated team of educators who are committed to student growth and success.”

David Moore, attorney for Katherine Cattes, the teacher involved, released the following statement:

"Ms. Cattes had no idea that when she provided “Looking for Alaska,” along with four other book choices, to her students during winter break that such an uproar would occur.  This book has sold over 45 million copies, has been made into a television mini-series, and has been available in the Coloma Middle School library for 10 years.

Ms. Cattes is not a radical social just warrior with a political agenda.  Her actions were deemed not to be a violation of the law.

Ms. Cattes only wants to continue to be the same dedicated and devoted teacher that she has been for a decade and to have this matter fade into the past."

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