A Niagara Falls High School teacher is free on bail after police said Wednesday he “engaged in an intimate relationship” with a 16-year old female student.

Paul Christopher Chiarella, 38, 943 Rankine Road, was charged with one count each of third-degree sexual abuse and endangering the welfare of a child.

He pleaded not guilty to the misdemeanor charges during an arraignment in City Court and was released from custody on a $1,000 bail bond. His next scheduled court appearance is April 2.

Investigators said Chiarella, a teacher in the Falls School District for eight years, befriended the student and on several occasions “kissed her on the mouth and neck.” He also reportedly allowed the student to “skip class” and hang out in his classroom.

The encounters between the teacher and student occurred “in a secured stage dressing room” at the high school, usually during the last period of the school day.

The relationship began in September, when the student enrolled in Chiarella’s media production class. The student told detectives Chiarella was a very “laid back teacher” and said lots of students had his cell phone number and e-mail address.

The high school junior said she and Chiarella shared mutual interests in movies, books and music. While that formed the initial basis for their relationship, the student said Chiarella began to talk to her about his “counseling and marital problems.”

The teen said she was flattered by his openness with her.

In addition to their contact at school, Chiarella and the student also engaged in extensive online conversations. The teen’s mother said she became aware that her daughter and a teacher she knew only as “Mr. C” were having late-evening chats on a home computer and became concerned.

The mother said she went to the high school in November and confronted Chiarella and told him to “step back” from his relationship with her daughter. She said the “time frame” (late evening, outside of school) was “inappropriate for teacher/student conversation.”

The victim’s mother also told detectives that she installed software on the home computer “that would allow me to read all of (my daughter’s) conversations.” The woman said, “When I saw the conversations ... I saw the content was innocent,” focusing on movies, books and music.

She said while she was suspicious of Chiarella’s behavior, she did not think there was a sexual element to it. The mother said her daughter has also been struggling with a host of personal issues over the last two years.

After warning Chiarella to “cease and desist” in his behavior, the mother told him if he didn’t she would take her concerns to school officials.

The victim, who was not immediately aware of her mother’s contact with Chiarella, said the relationship continued over the winter recess. She said Chiarella brought her Christmas presents and took her to a movie at an Orchard Park theater complex.

The teacher also told her he wanted “to pursue a relationship past my graduation and to the point of having children with me.” The teen said she began to feel “overwhelmed” by the relationship and said she “realized what we were doing was wrong.”

Chiarella told her, “He agreed that it was wrong, but it didn’t feel wrong.” She said he told her he expected they would “get caught” and he would “kill himself.”

“He crossed the line,” Falls Police Superintendent John Chella said. “You want teachers to be role models and have an influence on kids’ lives, but he (Chiarella) crossed the line.”

The full relationship was finally discovered by the mother two weeks ago, when the her daughter confessed the details to her. At that point, the mother contacted district officials.

“As soon as school officials got these allegations, they contacted us,” Chella said. “We immediately investigated it.”

Chiarella’s defense attorney, James Faso, said he is evaluating the charges against his client.

“It’s early on in the investigation,” Faso said. “I just got involved recently.”