Palo Alto High School science teacher Ronnie Farrell will face charges for nine sex crimes stemming from two separate incidents involving a 15-year-old student, a Santa Clara County prosecutor said on Wednesday.
Ronnie Farrell, 46, will be charged with six counts of lewd and lascivious acts on a minor and three counts of sexual battery for the incidents, which occurred in early June on school grounds, prosecutor Steven Dal Porto said.
Palo Alto police arrested Farrell on June 15 for allegedly inappropriately touching the student in his classroom.
The incident happened on June 7 after Farrell asked the victim to meet him at Paly. The victim regularly helped her teachers with chores in the classroom, and she agreed to meet him, police said.
Farrell allegedly led her to a classroom and grabbed her around the waist, lifting her up onto a counter. He allegedly put his hands under her blouse and touched her breasts. Farrell also allegedly took her hand and held it on top of his pants over his groin. The victim moved his hand away, Dal Porto said. Farrell eventually told her to leave the classroom, police said.
The victim told her parents about the incident, and they called police. Farrell continued corresponding with the victim via social media, and arranged to meet her at the school on June 15. When Farrell arrived, police arrested him. He posted $250,000 bail the same day, Dal Porto said.
According to police, Farrell had been communicating with the victim using social media.
Dal Porto said Farrell had been particularly friendly to the victim and often offered to help her. He was a popular biology and chemistry teacher at the school, and the victim did not initially suspect anything unusual in their relationship or his behavior, he added.
The June 7 incident was not the first that Farrell allegedly had with the victim. On June 3, the student had returned to the school campus to pick up a project that she was working on.
"He grabbed her arms and pulled her and hugged her and held her for a lengthy period of time," Dal Porto said the victim had reported.
Farrell will be arraigned in Santa Clara County Superior Court on Aug. 15. If he is convicted of all charges, he could face up to 10 years in state prison, Dal Porto said. No other victims have been identified so far, but police are continuing to investigate, Dal Porto said.
Farrell has taught science at Paly since 2012. He had transitioned from a private sector job as a senior network administrator with Rockefeller Group Telecommunications Services in New York prior to taking up teaching, said Jorge Quintana, the school district's communications coordinator.
Superintendent Max McGee said after the arrest that the district has not received any previous complaints about Farrell nor any indication that Farrell engaged in this kind of behavior.
"This was a surprise, I think, to everyone," McGee told the Weekly. "What's most important is the well-being of this young lady. I trust that she'll have the support and help of (her) family and certainly of our whole school community."
The district's student-services department and Paly Principal Kim Diorio have been in touch with the student's family, and Diorio sent a message about Farrell's arrest to students and parents.
"Like you, I was shocked and deeply saddened to first learn of this news," she wrote. "I'm at a loss for words except to say how incredibly saddened I am."
Diorio urged parents to "create time and a safe space for our children, especially those who had Mr. Farrell as a teacher, to process and discuss their feelings," particularly given the fact that school is out of session. She said grade-level counselors are available to help students who might need support returning to Paly, and pointed parents to an online list of counseling and crisis resources.