REGO PARK, QUEENS (PIX11)—For the third time in a week and a half, a public school educator is under arrest for sexually abusing boys. This time, teacher Wilbert Cortez, 49, is charged with abusing two boys nearly 12 years after being found guilty of the same offense. It's caused the schools chancellor to revamp school policy citywide, but many parents at the school where the latest charges come from are not convinced enough is being done.
"There's three case in less than three weeks?" P.S. 174 parent Corrigan Hawker said to PIX11 News. "What is going on?"
At least 300 parents of P.S. 174 students met with Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott Friday morning about Cortez, a popular computer teacher who's now out on $50,000 bail from charges that he had placed his hand on the pants of an 8 year-old and a 9 year-old boy, touching their penises and buttocks in separate instances.
"It was frustrating. Frustrating," parent Phyllis Medina said about the meeting with the chancellor. "It doesn't sound like it's going to be any better."
The 90-minute meeting, by the accounts of every parent who spoke with PIX11 News, was heated, and loud. Particularly expressive was the father of one of the boys who is alleged to have been abused by Cortez.
"He was very upset, very emotional," a parent who had been in the filled-to-capacity auditorium said. "Which is understandable, considering what went on."
Another parent, Denis Beissellan, added, "He dIdn't like the fact that his child was in a basement with [Cortez] unsupervised."
A visit by PIX11 News to Cortez's apartment building showed that he is nowhere to be found since posting bail late Thursday night. "I haven't seen him," Cortez's doorman said, "Since he left [Thursday] morning." Cortez was arrested Thursday at 8:30 A.M.
Cortez's apartment is in Rego Park, the same neighborhood in which he's been teaching for the last 11-and-a-half years. Directly across the street from the home of the man found by schools investigators to have inappropriately touched two boys in 1999 is another school and a public playground.
So Cortez is around children at work and at home. The Special Commissioner of Investigation, or SCI, report from 2000 concluded that Cortez had handled the two male students at P.S. 184 in Brooklyn in a manner similar to that of which he's accused now with two boys from the school where he now works.
Cortez was able to stay in the public school system after the ruling because his actions were never reported to the NYPD, and also because the ruling stipulated that a letter of reprimand be placed in Cortez's personnel file, without him being terminated. The schools chancellor said at a news conference in front of Cortez's school that the city's policies will now change.
"What I am doing now is upping the ante," said Dennis Walcott, "And saying that [if] there is any improper touching involved, there is not going to be a letter to the file, you're going to be removed from the system. We'll go for that person's dismissal."
The chancellor had all of the city's schools send a two-page letter home to parents Friday afternoon, saying that the Department of Education will now review all rulings on teachers by the Special Commissioner of Investigation since 2000, and if a ruling concludes that a teacher had inappropriate contact of any sort with a child, the teacher will be removed from the classroom, and ultimately terminated.
The chancellor did not say if any of the soon-to-be-reviewed cases would be reported to police if sexual abuse was found by investigators. The new review of cases will begin, Walcott said, after the Presidents' Week break at schools next week.
If Cortez is found guilty of the charges he's faced with now of two counts of sexual conduct against a child and two counts of endangering the welfare of a child, he could get sentenced to up to seven years in prison.