Missy Hunsberger’s mind wandered to the inbox of an old email account when she read about former Valley teacher Kurt Sprenkel’s arrest on charges that he had groped three pre-teen girls.
Sprenkel, 45, of Middleburg, was sentenced Monday to a five-year term of probation. As part of his plea of “no contest” to three counts of endangering the welfare of children in 2017, he also surrendered his teaching license for life. He is not subject to Megan’s Law.
The case brought back to Hunsberger’s mind how, beginning back in 2004 and continuing until at least 2009, Sprenkel had exchanged dozens of emails with her. She said he used both his school and personal accounts after they first met when she was in the sixth grade. He was 31 then and was her teacher. She was 12, barely older than Sprenkel’s 2017 accusers.
Hunsberger now works as a victim assistance coordinator with the Office of Victim Advocate in Harrsiburg, a state agency assisting crime victims including those involved in sex-related crimes. She previously worked five years with Transitions, a group committed to assisting victims of sexual and domestic crimes.
“I looked up to him. I really appreciated him. At the same time, I always felt a little weird,” Hunsberger said. “It wasn’t until he was arrested that I went back and read the emails and noticed how disturbing they were.”
Emails were as far as things went, Hunsberger said. The two didn’t interact in person beyond the school day and there are no allegations by her of illegal physical contact.
Hunsberger said Tuesday that she felt the sentence Sprenkel received wasn’t enough. She said she decided to go public with her story “to give people a chance to see the emails I had from 15 years ago so that no one has a doubt that these girls were telling the truth.”
“I’m glad his teaching license will be surrendered, but the fact that he does not have to register as a sex offender or spend any time in prison feels like a huge disservice to the public and to the victims,” Hunsberger said.
An email to Sprenkel’s personal account seeking response went unanswered.
State police arrested Sprenkel in 2018 on accusations of inappropriate touching with the three accusers, 10 or 11 years old, during an outdoor education camp in Union County in fall 2017.
Midd-West employed Sprenkel as a fifth-grade teacher at West Snyder Elementary at the time. The school board accepted Sprenkel’s resignation in January 2018, backdated to Nov. 9, 2017.
A no contest plea is not an admission of guilt. It’s an acknowledgment by the defendant that enough evidence exists that potentially could lead to a conviction at trial. It’s treated functionally as a guilty plea for sentencing purposes.
“I’m glad we got this disposition and the minor female victims didn’t have to go through the process of testifying in court. There’s a trauma in doing that,” Union County District Attorney D. Peter Johnson said.
As part of his sentence, Sprenkel must undergo a psychological evaluation, perform 100 hours of community service, stay off West Snyder school grounds and have no contact with the accusers or their families.
‘Made me feel special’
Hunsberger said she was left to question the nature of their friendship after reading through the years-old missives in an old email account of hers. Many of the emails by Sprenkel, she said, take on the tone of a peer-to-peer relationship than a formal student-teacher relationship.
For example, in 2004, Sprenkel wrote to Hunsberger in June 2004 from his school email account after the school year ended:
“I can tell you have been busy too. I never get emails or IM’s from you or anything.”
“You are never even online. Sometimes, according to my Buddy List, it looks like you are online, but when I IM you, you never answer. I am assuming that someone else in your family must get on your IM screen name . . . I know you would not just ignore me and not answer when I IM you . . . would you??? (hee hee!!!),” the email states.
Emails shared by Hunsberger include messages from Sprenkel telling her he misses her and loves her, complimenting her looks and personality, calling her names like “honey,” “sweetheart” and “Sister Huntzburger.”
“To me, he was showing love to students. I bought into it at the time,” Hunsberger said.
The email exchanges continued sporadically through Hunsberger’s time in high school, she said.
Sprenkel’s messages sometimes veered into the religious, the two sharing a bond at the time through Christianity.
The emails get increasingly guarded. More than once he says their messages can be shared with her parents, but not with anyone else.
He advises she use his personal AOL account and against using his school address, saying he’d been in trouble for email exchanges with other students.
“But . . . as long as you are a student of the Midd-West School District, I am probably not supposed to even reply to your emails at all . . . well, I will ignore that . . . but, I cannot be too . . . too caring or God-edifying or whatever . . . not through email,” Sprenkel wrote in one message in 2009.
In one message, he apologizes for not being available to chat through Instant Messenger. In another, he asks why she hadn’t responded to messages through the service.
“I have been persecuted for many things over the last several years, and emailing students was one of them. I got a lot of heat this past spring for emailing a student,” Sprenkel wrote.
“It was really stupid. The kid’s parents who I emailed did not care, but someone else found out -- another kid’s parent -- and they got mad and caused me a lot of grief . . . a lot!!! They made a big deal with my principal and beyond. Dumb, huh??? And that was even through my own AOL account. If it had been through the school one, they may have been able to do something about it. As it was, there was nothing much they could do . . . except dock my teaching evaluation for the year...and they did. So, they hurt my teaching record through it. Oh well, it was not the first time,” Sprenkel wrote in another email in 2007.
Susan Mathias, chief executive officer of Transitions, accompanied Hunsberger to visit the Union County District Attorney’s Office to share the emails after Sprenkel’s 2017 arrest.
Hunsberger volunteered to testify for the prosecution had Sprenkel’s case gone to trial.
“She decided she needed to do something,” Mathias said before citing the #MeToo movement. “She’s become an amazing victim advocate.”