A Montclair resident who was honored as the Essex County Teacher of the Year in 2012 pleaded guilty Tuesday to endangering the welfare of a child, according to the Essex County Prosecutor's Office.
West Orange High School English teacher Erica DePalo, 33, will receive life parole supervision under the terms of the plea agreement when she is sentenced on April 29.
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, authorities said.
DePalo was arrested on Aug. 31 and charged with aggravated sexual assault and a second count of sexual assault for an alleged relationship with a 15-year-old boy. 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.
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.
The plea drew much criticism from West Orange school district's Interim Superintendent Jim O'Neill, who stated 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 denounced the county for treating the incident too lightly, citing a decision by a judge in a nearby county recommending seven years in jail in a similar case.
"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.
“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. “The victim’s family is also relieved that their son can now move forward.”