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Former Teacher Of The Year Accepts Plea In Teen Sex Case

Erica DePalo of Montclair accepts plea deal to endangering welfare of a child.

NORTH JERSEY --  The West Orange High School female English teacher accused of having a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old student pleaded guilty Tuesday, Feb. 19 to endangering the welfare of a child, according to the Essex County Prosecutor’s office.

Erica DePalo, 33, of Montclair is expected to receive life parole supervision under the terms of the plea agreement when she is sentenced on April 29, the official said in a release on Tuesday.

She will also be required to undergo a psychological evaluation at the Adult Diagnostic and Treatment Center in Avenel, forfeit her teacher’s license and never be allowed to seek government appointment, the prosecutor’s office said.

 “This is a just resolution of the case because it frees the victim from having to testify in open court,” Assistant Prosecutor Tony Gutierrez said in a release. “The victim’s family is also relieved that their son can now move forward.”

The interim superintendent of the West Orange School District, James O'Neill, said Tuesday he was “personally disappointed” and felt the parents and students in the district “have been poorly served by the justice system in Essex County." O'Neill said DePalo should have faced jail time.

From June to August 2012, the 15-year-old student visited DePalo at her apartment in Montclair more than once where the two had sexual relations, Gutierrez said.

DePalo was arrested on Aug. 31, 2012, police said. At the time, she was initially charged with aggravated sexual assault and a second count of sexual assault since the student was 15 and could not consent.

Those charges were dropped as part of the agreement. She could have faced up to 10 years in prison if convicted on all initial charges.

Records show DePalo was a graduate of Verona High School.

DePalo was chosen as the 2011-12 County Teacher of the Year, which is part of the state Department of Education’s New Jersey Teacher of the Year program. That year, she also was selected as one of the five finalists for the Teacher of the Year in the same program.

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