A Queens elementary school teacher arrested on Thursday and accused of repeatedly sexually abusing two students had been investigated 10 years before for inappropriately touching students at another school, but was allowed to continue teaching with only a warning letter, officials said.
Wilbert Cortez, a computer teacher at P.S. 174 in Forest Hills, was arrested Thursday morning and accused of molesting two boys, ages 8 and 9, over the course of the 2010-11 school year, the Queens District Attorney’s office said. Cortez was expected to be arraigned on Thursday night, and the DA’s office did not know if he had a lawyer.
Cortez, 49, was “reassigned away from students” in October, when the Department of Education was notified about allegations against him, officials said. In a letter, principal Karin Kelly said she would meet with parents Friday morning.
Cortez is the third public school teacher to be accused of sexual assault in the last few weeks.
“I am appalled by the allegations against Wilbert Cortez,” Chancellor Dennis Walcott said in a statement. “No adult who inappropriately touches a student, in or out of school, belongs anywhere near the children we are responsible for protecting.”
But the department had known about previous allegations made in 1999 while Cortez was teaching at PS 184 in Brooklyn, and let him continue teaching nonetheless.
In 2000, the Special Commissioner of Investigation for city schools found that two boys described receiving a “bad touch” from Cortez on several occasions. Other students said they had witnessed the molestation, according to the report, which said that Cortez declined to be interviewed by investigators.
His only reprimand was “having a disciplinary letter placed in his file,” education officials said.
School officials did not say if the teacher who ignored the students’ accusations had been reprimanded.
Cortez began as a substitute teacher in 1986, and became a full-time teacher in 1990. He faces seven years in jail if convicted.