The Palo Alto school board unanimously voted Tuesday to initiate dismissal proceedings for an elementary school teacher who has been accused of sexually abusing a former student more than 10 years ago.
The board approved the action 5-0 during closed session, Board President Heidi Emberling announced as the board convened for open session. The proceedings are for Michael Airo, who has taught fourth- and fifth-graders at Ohlone Elementary School since 2009.
The district placed Airo on unpaid compulsory leave last month after discovering that he was facing several charges: the continuous sexual abuse of a child under 14 - resident child molesting; and three instances of performing a lewd or lascivious act on a child by force, violence, duress, menace and fear.
Airo, 34, of San Mateo, was charged in late December with four felony counts relating to the alleged conduct, which occurred between 2002 and 2005, according to police.
Superintendent Max McGee initiated Airo's dismissal the same day the district was informed about the allegations via a fax from the California Department of Justice, but it required board approval to move forward. He called the allegations "deeply disturbing."
McGee told the Weekly Tuesday that the district recently sent Airo a letter "inviting him to appear to state his side of the case," which he did not do.
The Palo Alto Police Department began an investigation after receiving a report from the San Mateo County Department of Children and Family Services in May 2014. The female student, Jane Doe, now in her early 20s, disclosed the alleged sexual abuse to her psychologist at the time, according to a police report.
Doe told police in June 2014 that the abuse happened years before, when Airo lived in her home as her mother's boyfriend.
An attorney for Airo told Palo Alto police in September 2014 that Airo asserted he was innocent, but he did not provide a statement at the time, according to the police report. Airo did not return requests for comment for previous articles.
Palo Alto police also interviewed Ohlone Principal Nicki Smith as part of their investigation in January 2015. She did not inform anyone at the district office about the interview, McGee said Tuesday, but she has told him "repeatedly" that the police officer did not ask in any detail about the allegations.
Smith, who was named principal of Ohlone in May 2014, told officer Joel Hornung that she had not received or heard of any complaints filed against Airo, according to Hornung's notes in the police report. She "described him as a teacher that gives his students a lot of attention and care" and said he had become a "favorite teacher amongst parents," according to Hornung's notes.
"She said she would never imagine suspect Airo touching or harming the children in anyway and does not know of any suspicious circumstances involving him," Hornung wrote.
Smith has not returned repeated requests for comment.
McGee told the Weekly that the district will be developing a policy to outline what steps should be taken in situations like this one: "If there are police asking you about anything on your campus ... serious or not, someone from the district office whether it's the chief academic officer or human resources director or me or the associate superintendent or the communications director needs to know."
McGee said he has also spoken with Police Chief Dennis Burns about finding a balance between not interfering with an investigation and notifying the district in cases that might affect the health and safety of students.
"I think we have a better understanding about that," McGee said.
Detectives investigated Airo's work history with the school district at the time and determined there was no indication that there were any additional victims, police said in January.
Airo self-surrendered at the Santa Clara County Main Jail on Jan. 13, according to police. He immediately posted $500,000 bail after being booked by the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office, police said.
Airo made his first court appearance at the Palo Alto Courthouse on Tuesday, Feb. 16. He is set to formally enter a plea on Monday, March 21, according to Santa Clara County Deputy District Attorney Chris Lamiero.