A West Orange High School honors teacher -- who was chosen by other educators as Essex County "Teacher of the Year" last year -- was arrested Friday for having an alleged sexual relationship with a 15-year-old student.
Erica Depalo, 33, of Montclair, was arrested and charged with having a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old boy, who is a student at the high school. The relationship allegedly began in June and ended on Tuesday, according to the Essex County Prosecutor's Office.
Authorities did not give many details about the nature of the relationship or how it was disclosed, but said the boy was a student in Depalo's honors class. She was also the junior varsity tennis coach at the high school.
The boy's name is being withheld because he is a minor. Depalo was charged with first-degree aggravated sexual assault, second-degree sexual assault, and endangering the welfare of a child. Depalo’s bail was set at $100,000.
Depalo was suspended "immediately and indefinitely" by the school district, according to a released statement by James O’Neill, the West Orange School District interim superintendent.
West Orange Police declined to comment on the case and referred all questions to the prosecutor's office.
Depalo has worked at the high school since 2003. She 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.
DePalo earned her bachelor's degree in English from Villanova University and has a master's degree in Liberal Studies from the Graduate School of Arts and Science at New York University, as well as an Administrative Certificate from the College of Education and Human Services at Montclair State University.
At the time she was named Essex County Teacher of the Year, and honored by the Essex County Freeholders, she claimed to be working on her Master of Education degree in Educational Leadership at The College of New Jersey.
O’Neill issued the following statement Friday from the district about the arrest.
The West Orange Public School District has been advised by the Essex County Prosecutors Office that one of our employees has been arrested; the district has taken strong action by suspending the employee immediately and indefinitely.
The school district will cooperate with the prosecutor’s office in every way. The West Orange School District prides itself on being vested in the health, safety and welfare of our students. To that end, counselors will be available at West Orange High School beginning at noon on Tuesday September 4th, and every day after as long as needed.
This story is developing. More information will be posted when it becomes available.