WEST ORANGE, N.J. (CBSNewYork) – A former teacher of the year is accused in a school sex scandal, and she’s just been arrested.
Erica DePalo made a video after winning Essex County Teacher of the Year in 2011.
“I don’t have any children,” DePalo said in the video. “And I always say that I don’t have any children to go home and take care of, but every morning and every day that I go to school I have 110 children that are very near and dear to my heart.”
Those students are now buzzing at West Orange High School, where DePalo teaches 9th and 10th grade Honors English.
Students like Arnold Ajondo couldn’t believe the news that DePalo was arrested for having a sexual relationship with one of her students.
“I was kind of shocked,” Ajondo told CBS 2’s Cindy Hsu. “I was a little surprised. She was really close with the students and we all liked her. She was always there after school if you ever needed any help.”
The West Orange School District superintendent released a statement about the arrest, saying, “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.”
Evan Cumming is a former student, and he said that DePalo was his favorite English teacher.
“She was interesting and she was fun and she made me want to go to class,” Cumming said. “She never seemed like (someone who would do) the allegations I’ve heard. It doesn’t seem like something she’d do.”
DePalo has worked at West Orange High School since 2003. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Villanova University and a master’s degree from NYU.
She lives in Montclair, but was not home when CBS 2 went to her house for comment.
Her students said that they’ll wait to see how things play out.
“Innocent until proven guilty,” Ajondo said.
Students will be back in class next week. Counselors will be available at the school to help students deal with the issue.
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