Erica DePalo, the former Teacher of the Year in New Jersey accused of having sex with a 15-year-old honors student, pleaded not guilty to sex assault charges during her arraignment Wednesday.
DePalo, 33, of Montclair, is accused of starting a sexual relationship with the unnamed boy around June 15 that ended Aug. 28, authorities told the Newark Star-Ledger. Aside from teaching English at West Orange High School, DePalo is the school's tennis coach.
DePalo, who was named Essex County's Teacher of the Year in 2001 by the New Jersey Department of Education, pleaded not guilty through her attorney to aggravated sexual assault, sexual assault and endangering the welfare of a child in Superior Court in Newark, the Star-Ledger reported.
The student who allegedly had sex with DePalo was in her honors English class, according to the Montclair Times, and he is now a junior at West Orange High School.
The former Teacher of the Year's attorney, Anthony Alfano, says many who know DePalo are standing by her as she faces the allegations that could shatter her career and send her to prison.
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Alfano said DePalo "is extremely grateful for the overwhelming amount of support she has received from fellow teachers, peers and the West Orange community," according to the Star-Ledger.
"It's very, very heartwarming the support she has been receiving," Alfano said outside the courtroom, the Montclair Times reported.
During the hearing, prosecutors requested that DePalo be banned from contacting the 15-year-old student, his family, witnesses and employees of West Orange High School - conditions that Alfano agreed to, according to the paper.
After the allegations against DePalo came to light, the West Orange School District indefinitely suspended the English teacher.
Jim O'Neill, the district's interim superintendent, told the Star-Ledger, "the school district will cooperate with the prosecutor's office in every way."