Queens teacher arrested for inappropriate touching

February 16, 2012 7:57:23 PM PST
A New York City grade school teacher was arrested Thursday on charges he inappropriately touched a student - the third time this month a public school employee has been accused of abusing children.

Wilbert Cortez, 49, was in custody awaiting arraignment on charges of sexual conduct against a child and endangering the welfare of a child. The name of his attorney was not immediately available.

According to a letter sent to parents, Public School 174 in Queens first learned last October Wilbert "might have inappropriately touched a student at our school." The school alerted authorities and reassigned the teacher "to a central office away from students," it said.

Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said he was "appalled" by the charges.

"No adult who inappropriately touches a student, in or out of school, belongs anywhere near the children we are responsible for protecting," Walcott said in a statement. "I will do everything in my power to ensure that individuals like Mr. Cortez can be swiftly removed from our classrooms as soon as allegations surface, and be barred from teaching in our schools if those charges are substantiated."

Prosecutors say it happened in the hallways and the classrooms of PS 174 in Rego Park, Queens, where 49-year-old Wilbert Cortez is accused of molesting two of his students repeatedly over the course of several months.

Cortez has been a teacher at the school since 2000. He started with the Department of Education as a substitute teacher in 1986.

The Department of Education admits that Cortez faced similar allegations at PS 184 in Flushing back in 2000.

A parent claims that "Cortez touched his son's backside"

A student said that "Cortez placed his hands around the boy's waist and pulled him."

Although investigators substantiated the allegations, a letter was placed in his file and Cortez was allowed to continue teaching.

The latest case follows the arrests of employees at two other elementary schools within the past 10 days.

In the first case, a teacher's aide was jailed on charges he videotaped himself spanking one naked child and fondling another in a classroom at a Brooklyn school. An FBI investigation uncovered the videos on a computer seized from his home, authorities said.

Another aide at a Manhattan school was arrested three days later on sexual abuse and other charges accusing him of taking a boy to a school bathroom and having the child undress in a stall.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report)

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