A New Jersey English teacher and former “teacher of the year” has been charged with first-degree aggravated sexual assault, second-degree sexual assault and endangering the welfare of a child.
Erica DePalo, 33, of Montclair, N.J., pleaded not guilty Wednesday to the charges that stemming from an alleged sexual relationship this summer with a 15-year-old former male student.
According to police, the relationship began around June 15 and lasted until August 25, when “[a]n arrest warrant was signed three days later and she was taken into custody that day (August 28).”
DePalo has been a teacher at West Orange High School in Essex County since 2003. In 2011, she was named county teacher of the year. The school district in light of the charges against her has suspended DePalo indefinitely.
After winning teacher of the year, DePalo said, “I don’t have any children and I always say that I don’t have any children to go home and take care of, but every morning and every day that I go to school I have 110 children that are very near and dear to my heart.”
James O’Neill, the Interim Superintendent of Schools at the West Orange Public Schools District, said after DePalo’s arrest that the school system “has taken strong action by suspending the employee immediately and indefinitely. The school district will cooperate with the prosecutor’s office in every way.”
After her Wednesday court appearance, DePalo did not speak to reporters. Her attorney said she “maintains her innocence.”
DePalo remains free on $100,000 bail. Her next court date is scheduled for October 22.