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Community stunned by teacher's arrest

Longtime P.E. teacher Bill Giordano faces 28 felony counts alleging a 1991 sexual relationship with a 14-year-old

A popular physical education teacher at Jordan Middle School has been arrested for allegedly having sex with an underage student 14 years ago, stunning parents who learned the news on the first day of school Monday.

Bill Giordano, 59, was arrested by Menlo Park police officers last Thursday and was in court Monday afternoon. He is currently charged with 28 felony counts, stemming from the 28 months police say he had sexual relations with the student, who was also a volleyball player under Giordano's tutelage.

The school district has placed Giordano -- known as "Mr. G" -- on administrative leave. He is currently in custody in San Mateo County jail.

The alleged victim was 14 in December 1991, when the sexual encounters began, according to court documents. She is now 28 or 29.

In court Monday, Deputy District Attorney Melissa McKowan said the sexual relationship began when the student was working as a babysitter for Giordano.

Weekly sexual encounters ensued during school hours, after school and on weekends, McKowan told the judge. The knowledge of the encounters only surfaced recently, during therapy, McKowan said.

There is also an ongoing investigation into a second potential victim, McKowan said.

Judge Joseph Gruber set Giordano's bail at $1 million. The sum could be cut in half on Wednesday, during a second court appearance, unless there are further charges. Giordano could also enter a plea at that time.

Giordano showed little reaction during the hearing. He was seated with fellow inmates behind a glass partition, dressed in an orange jumpsuit. He looked grayer and older than the picture of him on the school's Web site.

Outside the courtroom, Giordano's attorney, William Stewart, refused to comment. Stewart had argued for a lesser bail amount, saying Giordano had strong community ties and was not a threat to the community.

"We think, as a teacher in a public school, he is a threat to the community," McKowan told a small group of reporters after the court appearance.

Camilla Olson, last year's PTA president for Jordan, said her daughter was on the school's track team and was coached by Giordano. Olson said she was stunned by the news.

"He's always been very appropriate, or I should say never has been inappropriate," she said. "He has a very good relationship with students."

Emphasizing she didn't know any facts about the case, Olson added: "Right now I know he's been a tremendous contributor to the school. I don't know what happened with this woman. They're both in our prayers."

Menlo Park police officers arrested Giordano last Thursday in his Menlo Park home. According to a press release, items were also seized from his home, the result of a warrant. But police Sgt. Jim Simpson refused to elaborate about those items.

Giordano has been a teacher in the Palo Alto district since 1978, and has been teaching at Jordan since 1991, when it opened, according to school officials. He also coaches volleyball at Palo Alto High School and JLS Middle School and was student activities director for 10 years.

"This is terrible to have happen at any time, but on the first day of school our attention is that our kids feel safe," said Marilyn Cook, associate superintendent for educational services.

The school district learned of the allegations from Menlo Park police on Friday, even though the alleged victim had come forward earlier this month. Cook said the district was disappointed but not surprised by the delay.

The district removed Giordano's Web site on Monday. According to the site, he is a car aficionado who enjoys the beach and has a dog "Sexie Sadie," named after a Beatles song.

Jordan Principal Suzanne Barbarasch sent a letter to Jordan parents on Monday, alerting them of the charges and saying that counselors were available to meet with students.

"This allegation reminds us of the importance of talking with students about child abuse," Barbarasch wrote. "It is important to be honest with the emerging adolescent. If you feel angry or sad, say so. Students may feel as you do and those feelings might give you the chance to begin a conversation."

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