NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — New York City Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott spoke with parents at P.S. 208 Friday after a teacher was arrested for allegedly sexually abusing one of his students.
Walcott called the allegations against 29-year-old teacher Rafael Sosa “horrific” and “repugnant.”
“It violates the trust of everything that we believe in,” Walcott said.
He spent more than an hour meeting privately with parents and teachers, fielding a lot of what he describes as emotional, angry and tough questions.
Sosa was arraigned in Manhattan Criminal Court Thursday and was removed from the classroom following his arrest.
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Police said Sosa abused an 8-year-old student inside his third grade classroom at P.S 208 repeatedly between December and last week. Sosa pleaded not guilty to the charges on Thursday.
His attorney called the $75,000 cash bail an “unreasonably high” amount that she said the married father of a 5-year-old can’t afford.
His lawyer also insisted that Sosa’s relationship with the girl wasn’t sexual and that his family and hers were friendly.
But prosecutors said Sosa initiated the friendship so he’d have greater access to the young girl, befriending her mother, buying the student gifts, including video games and an iPod, and calling her “daughter” even though they are not related.
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Sosa also allegedly instructed her to write him an email that said “I love you, I miss you, my heart belongs to you,” according to prosecutors.
Those with children in Sosa’s class said they’re stunned.
“My child is just as confused as I am and today we came here to look for answers,” Annie Fernandez said.
Parents are now faced with the unpleasant task of asking their young children if they ever experienced anything inappropriate.
“I talked to her, asked her did he ever touch you, he ever felt you, kiss you, anything, I asked her all these questions,” Bernice Moorehouse said.
The Department of Education said Sosa was appointed an elementary school teacher in September 2007 and worked at P.S. 90 in the Bronx. He began at P.S. 208 in Manhattan in September 2009. There were no prior investigations and the DOE said he passed a background check.
Many parents are now demanding to know what the DOE is planning to do about what appears to be an epidemic of alleged teacher predators in public schools.
Sosa is at least the 10th DOE employee in recent months to face charges of allegedly sexually abusing a student.
“I’ve been very clear about this, that individuals who have improper relationships or touch our students in any type of sexual way should not be part of our school system,” Walcott said. “It’s just abhorrent to me and I’m not going to tolerate it.”
Walcott and Mayor Michael Bloomberg are pushing state lawmakers for more control when it comes to firing teachers accused of sexual misconduct.
Currently, the final decision rests with an independent arbitrator, but after a seemingly endless string of alleged incidents, parents want a drastic change.
“I want to be the final decision maker,” Walcott said. “I’m the one that’s sat down with these parents and I’m the one sitting down with parents on a regular basis addressing their questions as it should be, and I should be the one making that final decision.”
However, not everyone is convinced Walcott is doing enough.
“Parents are saying what are you doing to protect us in the future, how are you gonna prevent this and the answer he gives is, you know, your kids are safe,” Noah Gotbaum of Community Education Council Board 3 told CBS 2’s Kathryn Brown.
According to a Quinnipiac University poll released just hours before Sosa’s arrest, 92 percent of those questioned said education officials should have the power to fire any school employee convicted of touching a student improperly.
It also found that 82 percent said education officials should be able to immediately remove any employee who is even accused from the classroom.
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