'Teacher of the year' in NJ denies sex charge
NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — A New Jersey woman recently named a county's teacher of the year was in court Wednesday to answer charges that she had sex with a 15-year-old boy enrolled in an honors class she taught.
An attorney for Erica DePalo, 33, of Montclair, entered a not guilty plea on her behalf during a hearing in Superior Court in Newark. DePalo faces aggravated sexual assault, sexual assault and child endangerment charges. The boy was in her honors English class and the two carried on what prosecutors described in court documents as a "sexual relationship" from June until recently.
DePalo has been indefinitely suspended from her job teaching English at West Orange High School, according to school officials. Her attorney said she had been a teacher for nearly a decade. DePalo was named Essex County's teacher of the year in 2011.
DePalo was accompanied to her Wednesday court appearance by family members. She did not speak during the hearing.
Her attorney, Anthony Alfano, said DePalo maintained her innocence and was "extremely grateful for the overwhelming amount of support" she had been receiving from other teachers and members of the West Orange community since her Aug. 31 arrest.
Assistant Essex County Prosecutor Gigi Scoles declined to comment on how the case had been brought to the attention of authorities, citing the ongoing investigation.
DePalo remains free on $100,000 bail and was due back in court October 22.