District: DePalo Should Have Faced Jail Time
West Orange Interim Superintendent Jim O'Neill says the county's plea bargain with a high school English teacher for her sexual relationship with a 15-year-old student is too light.
The interim superintendent of the West Orange School District 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” after high school English teacher Erica DePalo pleaded guilty to charges of endangering the welfare of child and received no jail time.
District Interim Superintendent Jim O'Neill complained the county treated the incident too lightly, citing a decision by a judge in a nearby county recommending seven years in jail in a similar case.
Erica DePalo, 33, of Montclair, was accused of having a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old student. Those charges were dropped after she accepted a plea bargain in a Newark Superior Court.
"I could not imagine that a teacher who admitted to engaging in sexual relations with an underage student would not face any jail time," O'Neill said in a release.
The interim superintendent's full statement appears below:
It is my personal belief that the citizens of West Orange, the parents and most importantly the students in the West Orange schools have been poorly served by the justice system in Essex County.
In my long professional career I could not imagine that a teacher who admitted to engaging in sexual relations with an underage student would not face any jail time. A nearby county just recommended 7 years for a teacher under similar circumstances.
While the state is fixated on test results and revamping the evaluation system we are faced with a decision that sends, at best, a disconcerting message about the tolerance the state has for such inappropriate behavior.
It is my belief that this verdict demonstrates little regard for tens of thousands of educational professionals who take their responsibility to be role models seriously.
I am disappointed and dismayed that such a serious breach of every ethical standard was treated so lightly by our judicial system.