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PS 174 teacher arrested on sex abuse charges

Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott speaks about reviewing all school personnel for substantiated reports of sexual touching following the arrest of a Rego Park teacher on those charges. Photo by Howard Koplowitz
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A review is underway of all city Department of Education personnel after a computer teacher at PS 174 in Rego Park was charged with sexually touching two boys, city Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said outside the school Friday.

The review was triggered, Walcott said, after teacher Wilbert Cortez, 49, was charged with two counts of sexual conduct against a child and two counts of endangering the welfare of a child for allegedly inappropriately touching two students on multiple occasions between September 2010 and June 2011, according to the Queens district attorney.

“I will not let any teacher or [school] personnel to be involved in any sexual touching of our schoolchil­dren,” Walcott said outside PS 174, at 65-10 Dieterle Crescent in Rego Park, where a meeting was held with parents to update them on how the DOE was handling the situation.

Cortez has since been removed from the school, as he faces charges.

Walcott said the review will go back to 2000, and if any school employee has a substantiated incident — defined by Walcott as a case verified by the special commissioner of investigations or the DOE’s internal office — of sexual touching or other inappropriate sexual behavior with a student, the chancellor will move to have the employee dismissed.

Cortez had a substantiated sexual incident at another school in 2000, but PS 174’s principal was not aware of it, Walcott said, which is why the review is now being conducted.

The chancellor estimated the review of all DOE personnel should be finished in the next several weeks.

The meeting with parents held Friday was described by Walcott as “really emotional.

“People were crying and there was a lot of anger,” he said.

PS 174 parent Barry Campbell, whose 8-year-old son goes to the school, commended PS 174 Principal Karin Kelly for referring the incident to the DA after the students made the allegations, but questioned why she was not aware of Cortez’s prior behavior.

Parents said they approved of how Walcott was handling the situation.

“This guy seems to take his responsibilities as chancellor seriously,” said Denis Bisell, who has two children who attend PS 174.

Bisell said the father of one of the boys who was allegedly abused fumed during the meeting, especially because Cortez was allowed to teach in the basement.

“He didn’t like the fact that his child was in a classroom in the basement,” Bisell said.

Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at hkoplowitz@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.

Updated 7:51 am, February 23, 2012
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