Palo Alto teacher pleads no contest to sexual battery of student | News | Palo Alto Online |


Palo Alto teacher pleads no contest to sexual battery of student

Ronnie Farrell to be sentenced March 9

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UPDATE: Ronnie Farrell's sentencing, originally set for March 9, has been continued to April 27. He was taken into custody at his court appearance on March 9.

A former Palo Alto High School science teacher arrested last summer for committing sex crimes against a minor on campus has pleaded no contest to five felony sex-crime charges and faces a maximum of five years in state prison.

Ronnie Farrell, a 47-year-old biology teacher at Paly, plead no contest on Jan. 6 to four counts of committing a lewd or lascivious act on a child age 14 or 15 and a separate sexual-battery charge, according to court documents obtained by the Palo Alto Weekly. He had originally faced a total of nine counts stemming from two on-campus incidents.

Farrell was arrested on June 15 after a female student, who had been in Farrell's biology class that school year, reported to the police that he had inappropriately touched her in his classroom. The student was 15 years old at the time and had just completed her freshman year at Paly, according to police.

In pleading no contest, Farrrell agreed to what is called a "five-year state prison top," meaning that he could receive a sentence of up to five years in the state prison, said Santa Clara County District Attorney Steven DalPorto, the prosecutor assigned to the case.

"The judge will review the entire record — police reports, witness statements, victim impact statements, etc. — and decide on an appropriate sentence," DalPorto said.

Farrell also agreed to register as a lifetime sex offender and to pay full restitution to the student, court documents show. A protective order granted in August that prohibits him from contacting the student remains in place.

Farrell officially resigned from his teaching position the same day he pleaded no contest, according to Palo Alto Unified Superintendent Max McGee. Farrell had been on unpaid leave since his arrest. Farrell had taught biology and chemistry at Paly since 2012 — his first teaching job, according to the district. He was made a permanent staff member in the 2014-15 school year.

McGee said after the arrest that the district had not received any previous complaints about Farrell nor any indication that he engaged in this kind of behavior.

Court documents show the Commission on Teacher Credentialing has been periodically requesting court records on Farrell in consideration of potential mandatory revocation or denial of his teaching certification, most recently on Dec. 23.

A police report documents a range of in-person and online interactions between Farrell and the student over several days after the school year ended last June. On June 3, 2015, the day after the last day of school, Farrell asked her to help him clean his classroom; she obliged and told police it wasn't "out of the ordinary" to help teachers with "chores."

On June 7, she told police that Farrell again asked her to meet in her classroom. She told police that he touched her inappropriately multiple times. She recalled "feeling disappointed in herself because she was frozen, blanked out and in the moment didn't know what to do," the police report states. He later told her "not to tell anybody what happened and that he could get in a lot of trouble," the police report states.

Six days later, on June 13, the student's father reported to police that his daughter had been assaulted by one of her Paly teachers.

A Palo Alto Police Department sexual-assault detective, Joel Hornung, interviewed the student in person and viewed Facebook messages between her and Farrell. Screenshots of Facebook messages included in the police report show Farrell seeking to find out where the student lives and her whereabouts. He also asked her personal questions about her family, the report states. Multiple times, Farrell and the student communicated on Facebook until close to 4 a.m., the report notes.

On June 14 and 15, officers met with the student and composed Facebook messages to send to Farrell. In his responses, he described the assault as a "mistake" and wrote "you don't ever have to be scared for real around me."

They also had the student call Farrell. During the phone call, he apologized to the student. When she asked why he did what he did, he said: "Out of stupidity and exhaustion are the two things that I can say. Okay? I am sorry."

Farrell continued "to acknowledge he made a terrible mistake but asked her to remember what a great teacher he was," Hornung wrote.

Farrell is scheduled to be sentenced on March 9 at the Palo Alto Courthouse. Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Vincent Chiarello is overseeing the case.


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8 people like this
Posted by Student
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 20, 2017 at 6:42 pm

Sexual assault of a minor deserves more than five years.

13 people like this
Posted by Marc Vincenti
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 21, 2017 at 12:38 am

Marc Vincenti is a registered user.

I wish this young person well. She showed great courage and maturity in speaking up.

Like this comment
Posted by parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 21, 2017 at 9:30 am

[Post removed.]

Like this comment
Posted by B. Miller
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 2, 2017 at 2:13 pm

Had him last year for bio. Not at all a bad teacher, got along great with kids. Especially with girls...

2 people like this
Posted by H. Potter
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 9, 2017 at 5:57 pm

Mr Farrell was a energetic inspiring person, our son had him and we were very impressed with the way he inspired our son to learn and engage in science. It's good he pleaded guilty and apologized. The Mr Farrell I knew, would have stood up and been responsible for his mistakes.

There just isn't any room for adults to lose their perspective, you always must be a responsible/focused adult around children. I hope the girl is ok and is able to move past what has happened, and enjoys the amazing Palo Alto environment.

I hope Mr. Farrell finds a way to heal and uses his inspiring abilities to make a difference in the world. He did have good within, I hope he finds it once again.

2 people like this
Posted by Mom
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 13, 2017 at 10:31 pm

So very unfortunate because Mr. Farrell was the best science teacher amongst a mediocre department. He explained well and sincerely cared about teaching and helping students succeed. Although, he did pal around with the students too much. He felt remorse; too bad he made this huge mistake. So sad for both him and the girl—a loss all around.

Like this comment
Posted by Due justice
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 17, 2017 at 11:15 am

Has Farrell been sentenced? Does anyone know the specifics?

11 people like this
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Mar 18, 2017 at 12:42 pm

Characterizing sexual abuse of a minor as a "huge mistake" and to "lose perspective" is abhorrent and wrong. This teacher deliberately pursued and set up scenarios with this student, indicating intent and forethought. I'm surprised by the ignorance in these comments, especially given the number of pedophiles that have been hired by Palo Alto schools.

5 people like this
Posted by Rot in hell Farrell
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 18, 2017 at 5:03 pm

[Post removed.]

4 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 18, 2017 at 5:22 pm

5 felony child sex crime convictions and only 5 years in prison? What is wrong with that equation? Did the victim's family agree to this plea deal?

2 people like this
Posted by Adult with perspective
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Mar 21, 2017 at 4:58 pm

Well.. state prison will teach him a thing or two about unwanted inappropriate advances. I think he will only need a few months for that lesson to sink in. I think he will pay society his debt regardless.

I like the posts above that inspire compassion. We could use a little more of that in today's times.

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