'Teacher Of The Year' Spared Jail After Sex With Student, 15

By: CBS News (Posted by Melissa Brunner)
By: CBS News (Posted by Melissa Brunner)

NEWARK, N.J. (CBS News) A New Jersey teacher won't go to prison after admitting she had sex with a 15-year-old student.

Erica DePalo, 33, must forfeit her teaching certificate and register as a sex offender.

The 2011 Essex County Teacher of the Year pleaded guilty in February to child endangerment and admitted the relationship with the student, a boy who was in her honors English class at West Orange High School.

CBS New York reported DePalo was spared jail time Monday after New Jersey Superior Court Judge Peter Ryan handed down a three-year suspended sentence.

The judge took into account DePalo's psychiatric condition and the role it may have played in her behavior.

DePalo initially was charged last year with aggravated sexual assault and could have faced up to 10 years in prison if she'd been convicted.

Under terms of her plea agreement she will now be subject to lifetime parole supervision.

"I feel nothing but remorse for my actions," a tearful DePalo told Judge Ryan in a brief statement. "I apologize to those who were indirectly or directly affected by my conduct."

DePalo has suffered from depression and anxiety since she was in college. Several years ago she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

It was only during in-patient treatment after her arrest that she discovered she had been incorrectly prescribed antidepressants instead of mood stabilizers, defense attorney Anthony Alfano said.

The drugs' effect may have helped her overachieve and succeed in the classroom, but it contributed to her errors in judgment, he said.

"I'm not trying to make excuses; she knew what she was doing," Alfano told the judge.

Assistant prosecutor Tony Gutierrez defended the plea agreement and said it was done with the consent of the student's family.

The judge said he was convinced that "all the parties here are anxious for the healing process to begin."

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