Michael Airo, an Ohlone Elementary School teacher charged in December with sexually abusing the daughter of a former girlfriend more than a decade ago, pleaded not guilty in court in Palo Alto on Tuesday.
Airo, 34, who taught fourth- and fifth-grade at Ohlone until he surrendered on Jan. 13, faces four felony counts relating to the alleged conduct: 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. The child was a former female student in the district, now in her early 20s, who disclosed the alleged sexual abuse to her psychologist in 2014, according to a police report obtained by the Weekly.
Airo first met the girl when she was 8 years old and he was an aide at the after-school program she attended at El Carmelo Elementary School, according to the police report.
Airo appeared in court on Tuesday morning with his attorney, Michael Armstrong of Palo Alto firm Nolan, Armstrong & Barton, to enter a not-guilty plea. A preliminary hearing was scheduled for Sept. 2.
Airo, a teacher at Ohlone since 2009, has been on unpaid administrative leave since January. The school board voted unanimously in February to initiate dismissal proceedings, which the district's attorneys are currently handling, according to Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Scott Bowers.
Meanwhile, Ohlone Principal Nicki Smith has sent a letter to Palo Alto police refuting portions of the police report describing the comments she made in a Jan. 8, 2015, interview and responding to community concerns raised about her failure to report the police visit to the district office.
Superintendent Max McGee said in a previous interview with the Weekly that he was "disturbed" neither he, nor anyone else at the Palo Alto school district office, as far as he knows, had been informed about the police interview.
The district only learned of the allegations when it received a "court-ordered booking" via fax in January from the California Department of Justice.
Smith maintains that when Palo Alto police officer Joel Hornung interviewed her about Airo in January 2015, he did not tell her any details about the investigation nor that it involved allegations of sexual misconduct.
"When I asked Officer Horning (sic) what the investigation was about, Officer Hornung told me he could not give me any details," Smith's letter, signed under penalty of perjury, stated. Smith also denied making a statement included in Hornung's report that she "would never imagine Suspect Airo touching or harming the children in anyway (sic)."
Smith, who was named principal of Ohlone in May 2014, also said she had no advance notice of the subject of the interview, though Hornung wrote in his report that "the meeting was scheduled to find out if there have been any complaints or suspicious instances" involving Airo.
Palo Alto police spokesman Lt. Zach Perron told the Weekly that police have added Smith's statement as a supplemental document to the original police report, which "will not be amended in any way."
He would not comment on the statement itself but said that, generally speaking, "Our officers and detectives prepare their written reports contemporaneously to interviews of witnesses, victims and suspects so that they can document what was said and done as accurately as possible."
"Cases often take months or occasionally even years to go to court, so documenting statements contemporaneously is very important," he added.
It is also not unusual to include relevant information after the fact so that the District Attorney's office, defense and the court have "full access to all pertinent information," Perron wrote in an email to the Weekly.
How much Smith knew about the case and at what point has become a sticking point for the district.
The district will be developing a policy to outline what steps should be taken in situations like this one, McGee said in February: "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."
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.
McGee also told the Weekly previously that after learning of the allegations, the district sent Airo a letter "inviting him to appear to state his side of the case," which he did not do.
Detectives investigated Airo's work history with the school district and determined there was no indication that there were any additional victims, police said in January.