NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Parents gave Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott an earful Friday morning at a heated emergency meeting following the arrest of a teacher accused of sexually abusing his students. It’s the third incident of its kind in recent weeks.
More than 100 angry parents attended the meeting with Walcott at P.S. 174, where Wilbert Cortez taught a computer class. Cortez is accused of inappropriately touching two students there back in the 2010-2011 school year.
“My daughter was in his class. And if I would’ve found out before they made the public announcement, they couldn’t have stopped me from going there and, I would be locked up for assault. That’s what I’m saying, because I would’ve gotten my hands on him,” father Steven Katz told CBS 2’s Pablo Guzman.
“I’m a grandparent. I’m a parent. So I understand where they’re coming from,” Walcott said.
Cortez walked out of Queens criminal court last night after posting $50,000 bail. The children in question are now ages 8 and 9.
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Police arrested Tyleek Brooks, identified in court documents as Taleek Brooks, on February 7. Police say Brooks had videos that allegedly showed him sexually abusing at least two children inside a classroom at PS 243 in Brooklyn.
Gregory Atkins, another teacher’s aide, was also accused of sexually abusing a student at PS 87 on the Upper West Side.
The father of one of the boys Cortez is accused of abusing showed up at the meeting to get answers.
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“He was very upset because he wants to know what will happen to the teacher, why it took so long, why didn’t his file transfer from 12 years ago to now. That didn’t happen,” said Barry Campbell.
In 2000, when Cortez was at P.S. 184 in Brooklyn, a letter went out to the Department of Education, saying Cortez allegedly “inappropriately touched two male students.” The letter adds that one of the accusers reported the alleged abuse to another teacher, but “on three separate occasions, he failed to report the information to the principal.”
A letter was placed in Cortez’s permanent file. Nonetheless, shortly after the letter, Cortez was transferred to P.S. 174, where he has taught for 11 years.
Parents are furious that Cortez remained in the school system despite his past.
“People are upset because they don’t know what happened,” said parent Denis Beissel. “And it does reveal some failures in the administrative system, in the school system.”
In addition to meeting with the parents today, Walcott put out a letter outlining policy changes following the spate of scandals. Those changes include making sure schools can easily identify teachers who have been previously disciplined when they’re looking to hire. Walcott says his staff will also dig through records of substantiated complaints of misconduct and “take appropriate action where necessary.”
“What I’m doing now is upping the ante. And saying, That there’s any improper touching involved. It’s not going to be a letter to the file. You’re going to be removed from the system,” he told Guzman.
And because Cortez slipped through the cracks 12 years ago, Walcott says they’ll look at records going back to 2000, and anyone who was flagged from then to now will be fired.
“We take matters like this very seriously,” Walcott wrote.
Kasia Rogan says Cortez teaches her 5-year-old son.
“I’m scared for my son, and I’m worried about other kids if that really happened,” Rogan said.
The series of sexual abuse arrests are causing alarm throughout the New York City school system.
“Our schools cannot be safe zones for pedophiles,” said New York State Senator Eric Adams. “It must be safe zones for children.”
What’s your reaction to the recent string of sexual abuse allegations in NYC schools? Sound off in our comments section below…