Superintendent Max McGee said he first learned of serious child-abuse allegations made against an Ohlone Elementary School teacher last week, when the district received a "court-ordered booking" via fax from the California Department of Justice.
McGee said that neither he, nor anyone else at the Palo Alto school district office, as far as he knows, was informed a full year earlier when a Palo Alto police officer interviewed Ohlone Principal Nicki Smith regarding the allegations.
Michael Christopher Airo, who taught at Ohlone Elementary School in Palo Alto. Courtesy Palo Alto Police Department.
Smith did not respond to several requests for comment.
According to McGee, there is no official procedure in place for when a principal becomes aware of allegations about a teacher or staff member, but "When police are involved in any investigation in a school -- no matter how serious -- I would expect the district office to be notified," he said.
Smith and McGee informed the school community last week that Mike Airo, a fourth- and fifth-grade teacher at Ohlone, had been placed on unpaid compulsory leave after the district discovered he is facing charges of sexual abuse of a former female Palo Alto Unified student from more than a decade ago. The district also initiated dismissal proceedings for Airo.
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, when the former student was between the ages of 11 and 13 years old, according to police. The former student, who will be identified as Jane Doe to protect her privacy, is now in her early 20s, according to a police report obtained by the Weekly. She disclosed the alleged sexual abuse to her psychologist in 2014, according to the report.
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.
Doe told police in June 2014 that years before, when Airo lived in her Palo Alto home as her mother's boyfriend, he would inappropriately kiss her breasts, stomach and buttocks while she was taking showers, according to court documents obtained by the Weekly. It never progressed beyond that conduct, the young woman told police.
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 request for comment for this article.
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.
About six months into the Palo Alto Police Department's investigation into the allegations, on Jan. 8, 2015, officer Joel Hornung interviewed Smith. The meeting was "scheduled to find out if there have been any complaints or suspicious instances" involving Airo, Hornung wrote in his notes.
Smith, who was named principal of Ohlone in May 2014, told Hornung that she had not received or heard of any complaints filed against Airo. 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," Hornung's notes read.
"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.
Detectives investigated Airo's work history with the school district and determined there was no indication that there were any additional victims, police said last week.
McGee said he is unsure in what detail Smith was told about the allegations. He said he spoke last week with Police Chief Dennis Burns about the investigation, and they plan to talk again this week.
"We're still trying to uncover who knew what when," McGee said. "The fact that neither I or (Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources) Scott Bowers knew about this until we got that note from the Department of Justice -- I don't think that was in the best interest of our students or our community."
Anyone who suspects a current or former student may have been victimized by Airo is encouraged to contact the school district office and/or call the police department's 24-hour dispatch center at 650-329-2413.