City education officials could have seen in their records that Wilbert Cortez had a substantiated complaint against him for inappropriately touching a student while teaching at Brooklyn’s PS 184 in 2000.
But Karin Kelly, the principal at PS 174 in Rego Park, didn’t know.
And on Feb. 16, Cortez, a computer teacher at PS 174 since being transferred there in September 2000, was arrested for allegedly touching two male students on multiple occasions in 2010 and 2011.
The NYPD and Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said Cortez, 49, of Rego Park, was charged with two counts of second-degree course of sexual conduct against a child and and two counts of endangering the welfare of a child.
Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott met with parents at the school for nearly two hours on Feb. 17. He said Kelly was not principal when Cortez was hired at PS 174.
“There was an understandable amount of anger,” Walcott said at a press conference outside the Dieterle Crescent school Friday morning. “As a grandparent and a parent I share their feelings.”
Cortez was transferred to PS 174 six months after the initial claim in 2000. Published reports state that the only action taken against him was a letter in his personnel file, a letter that would not have been available to his subsequent principals. No criminal charges were ever filed.
Parents leaving the meeting declined to comment.
In a letter he said was sent home last week with all children in the school system, Walcott assured parents that he and his staff make the safety of children their primary concern.
“While these separate incidents were alleged to occur in just three of our 1,700 schools, this is three incidents too many,” Walcott wrote in the letter. “I am writing to convey to you how seriously I am taking these allegations.”
Two school aides in the last month also have been accused of improper contact with students.
One of those two also had a prior complaint against him.
Walcott said his office has begun a review of all personnel files dating back to 2000 to determine if there are other current employees who have substantiated cases of sexual or other inappropriate contact with students.
He said those cases will be flagged and that from this point forward he will move to dismiss any employee against whom there is a substantiated charge.
Education officials last week were attributing the failure to let principals access such information to “a gap in the system.”
The chancellor also said they have crisis teams at the affected schools to assist students, parents and staff with any questions or problems.
He said additional resources, such as advice for having age-appropriate conversations with children on the matter, are available on the Department of Education’s website.
Cortez was arraigned on Feb. 16 before Queens Criminal Court Judge John Zoll. He was released on $50,000 bail and is scheduled to be in court again on March 19.
In a statement issued by his office on Feb. 16, Brown said Cortez could face up to seven years in prison if convicted on the new charges.
The case is being investigated by Det. Carlos Almonte of the NYPD’s Queens Special Victims Squad.