New Jersey

New Jersey High School Teacher Accused of Sexually Assaulting 5 Students: Prosecutor

A northern New Jersey high school teacher who was accused of sexually assaulting three 15-year-old students is now being accused of assaulting two more students, authorities say.

Nicole Dufault,  35,of Caldwell, was arrested Wednesday night for the alleged assaults inside Columbia High School in Maplewood and in her car since last year, the Essex County prosecutor's office said. The students were allegedly assaulted during the summer months and the school year, authorities said.

Dufault pleaded not guilty to charges involving the initial three students Friday morning. It wasn't clear when she would be arraigned on the additional charges.

Authorities said the additional two students did not just come forward; rather, "we just reached the stage in the investigation where the charges involved these students could be added," according to the prosecutor's office. 

Dufault was being held on $500,000 bail at the Essex County Correctional Facility and police say they removed two children from her custody.

Information on Dufault's attorney wasn't immediately available.

The investigation began with school officials, who then flagged law enforcement, according to the prosecutor's office. 

Board of Education president Elizabeth Daugherty said in a statement Friday that the allegations "deeply disturbing," but declined to discuss how the investigation began, citing confidentiality rules. 

Daugherty said the board and the administration will cooperate with authorities in their investigation. 

Some parents were stunned by the news of the teacher's arrest Thursday and went to the school in search of information.

"We need to know what happened, when it happened and why it happened," said one mother who did not want to give her name. She said when she called the high school for answers, the person who picked up hung up on her. 

"That's not acceptable," she said. 

No one answered Dufault's home door Thursday, but neighbors said Friday they were shocked by the accusation. 

"I thought she was a responsible adult, taking care of the kids, raising the family, and then all of a sudden it's like, bam," said Donna Lee. "That's what's so shocking, and it's the kids who are suffering in all this." 

Nancy Ursitti said Dufault is a "sweet" woman and the "gentlest mother to her children."

"I'm shocked," she said. 

Prosecutors say Dufault is a language arts teacher and has worked at the school for nine years.

The school was offering counseling and other assistance.

Follow Ida Siegal on Twitter @idasiegal4NY

Follow Danielle Elias on Twitter @danielle4ny

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