Usually it’s the teacher who wonders if a “sick” note asking for an excused absence is real. In central Pennsylvania, however, it’s the teacher who’s accused of faking information to get out of work.
Middletown police say a popular middle school teacher has been lying about having an inoperable brain tumor for more than a decade. Leslie Herneisey, 51, resigned in May, was arraigned last week and faces a preliminary hearing on August 5.
Herneisey, nominated three times to be Pennsylvania’s teacher of the year, told friends and co-workers that she had an inoperable form of brain cancer. She got her school district to give time off from work and is also accused of accepting money that people raised to send her on a free trip to Disney World.
"I think this is something that spiraled out of control and got bigger than she expected. Once you commit a falsehood as big as she did, it's kind of hard to go back on," Detective Robert Appleby of the Lower Swatara Police Department told ABC News in an interview.
Police say they have records showing Herneisey began claiming she had a brain tumor at least nine years ago in order to be granted sick leave, but there are indications she may have started making claims as far back as 16 years ago.
Last year she requested eight weeks off work for chemotherapy. Sympathetic colleagues submitted a request on her behalf to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, but the application was rejected due to factual discrepancies. Instead of following up and checking out her story, work colleagues raised funds to send the teacher and her family on vacation to Disney World.
In April, when she showed no visible signs of chemotherapy treatment, rumors began to circulate that the illness wasn’t real. At that point her employers started an investigation and learned that she had falsified a neurosurgeon’s signature on leave documents.
Herneisey has been charged with 12 felony counts of forgery and released on $10,000 bond. Local officials said they hoped those who donated money for the trip to Disney World will pursue the matter in civil court.