Sarasota Co. dance instructor facing new charges for relationship with student

NORTH PORT, Fla. (WFLA)—A dance instructor from North Port is in hot water again, facing new charges for her inappropriate relationship with a student.

Lauren Debenedetta was first charged back in January, but News Channel 8 has learned of new disturbing allegations—and police worry there could be more victims.

North Port police believe the 38-year-old teacher at Haven Dance Studio had an ongoing sexual relationship with a 15-year-old girl who was a student at her studio.

According to police, between October and December, a number of sex acts between Debenedetta and the young girl occurred inside the teacher’s home and her office at the studio while other children were nearby

“Not necessarily in the view of other students but while classes were going on at the dance studio,” said North Port police spokesman Josh Taylor.

Debenedetta now faces three new felony charges of lewd and lascivious molestation.

The charges were filed on Tuesday night after interviews with the victim, and work by electronic forensic experts.

The teacher was arrested before in January, when detectives learned of a sexual encounter between the Debenedetta and the girl at the teen’s home in Port Charlotte.

Now police are concerned she may have preyed on other students.

“Certainly there’s a possibility. If anything, for the amount of kids she was around. So we want to make sure,” explained Taylor.

We interviewed the grandmother of a former student at Haven Dance, who asked we withhold her identity.

“I was a little bit skeptical if it was the truth but now I know it is,” said the grandmother.

The woman said everyone respected the teacher—she can’t believe Debenedetta was capable of this.

“It could’ve happened to my granddaughter. Thank God that it didn’t,” she said.

Police say it’s a lesson to parents—talk with your kids, no matter the age.

“A young girl like that is still trying to figure out life, and for somebody, an authoritative figure in her life to take advantage of her like that, is every parent’s worst nightmare,” said Taylor.

“My heart breaks for the families and her family, its horrible,” said the grandmother.

Debenedetta was booked at the Sarasota County jail and held on a $45,000 bond.

Anyone with additional information about the suspect or other possible victims, has been asked to call North Port Police at (941) 429-7300.

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