ALBANY -- The death of a beloved middle-school teacher accused of committing a lewd act with a former student has "shaken us to the core of who we are," Albany Unified School District Superintendent Marla Stephenson said at a news conference Tuesday.
James Izumizaki, 28, was found in his car on a San Lorenzo street Monday morning by a relative. Officials said he appeared to have taken his own life.
Izumizaki, an Albany resident, had been on leave since district officials found out last week that he was accused of having an inappropriate relationship with a female former student.
He was arrested on suspicion of committing lewd acts with a child under the age of 14 on the morning of Sept. 26, but later
Albany police Lt. Dan Adams said his department's investigation is also ongoing, despite Izumizaki's death. He would not release any additional details Tuesday morning.
Stephenson called the news conference Monday evening after announcing Izumizaki's death. Students were told of the death Tuesday, and grief counselors were on hand.
"We pride ourselves in our connectedness," Stephenson said of the Albany schools community. "James Izumizaki was a homegrown product of Albany schools. He was very much a part of the fabric of this community.
"This is complex in that we have
Police and school officials would not discuss the specific allegations against Izumizaki. Joanne Wile, an Albany city councilwoman and retired psychiatric social worker who is assisting the district with its mental health support for students, said at the news conference that she had "concerns about the girls who made the allegations" and making sure counseling was available to them. Wile did not return calls to discuss her comments and authorities would not discuss whether there were multiple alleged victims.
On Tuesday night, many parents showed up to a meeting held by Shelly Ball and Sally Cohen, the coordinators of the school's mental health programs, to discuss how to help children through the crisis.
Few parents wanted to discuss the case on the record, but one woman whose three children attended the school before graduating said the issue is complex.
"What I feel and who I feel for are the family and the students," said Cynthia Irvine of Albany. "This community has an extra small-town feel to it, and we'll rally around each other to get through
The school was on a half-day Tuesday, Stephenson said, and teachers and mental health counselors were encouraged to let students express their feelings about the incident.
A makeshift shrine was set up in front of the school's entrance Tuesday night, with flowers, candles and a picture of Izumizaki left at the base of a flagpole, along with a sign from the Albany Middle School staff that said, "To all who are suffering, remember there is always hope and help. We love you."
Counselors will remain on campus for the remainder of the week, Principal Peter Parenti said in an email to families, and a second parent meeting scheduled for Thursday will also help coach parents on how to talk to their children about the incident.
Many students have experienced a significant loss by the time they've reached high school, Wile said.
"We're going to try to support the expression of the full range of emotions that students are having," Wile said.
Still, the twin shocks of the allegations against Izumizaki, followed by his death, would have a strong effect on both students and staff, she said.
"For everyone involved in this loss, this is going to be ... an impact of a lifetime," Wile said.
Steven Terusaki, a parent of former Albany district students, questioned the handling of the case and wondered if Izumizaki had felt presumed guilty after being placed on leave.
Albany school board President Paul Black said the district was trying to be fair to its personnel, but that protecting students had to be the top priority.
"When someone pulls the fire alarm, you don't run around and see if it's a false alarm," Black said. "You evacuate, then investigate.
"We don't want anyone vilified. We don't know what happened. We know it's a great tragedy."
Shortly before the news conference, teachers, parents and students gathered in front of the school for a candlelight vigil before classes began. Attendees stood quietly, some hugging each other and crying.
Izumizaki was a teacher and coach at Albany Middle School for five years and had coached a volleyball and a basketball team. After he was placed on leave, school officials said they would split students from his sixth-grade class among nine other classes at the school.
A note was found with Izumizaki's body, according to Alameda County Sheriff's Sgt. J.D. Nelson. An autopsy is scheduled to take place Tuesday.