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Thursday, August 6, 2015

Passing the Trash: Why Was Wilbert Cortez Still Teaching?

     In 2000, 37-year-old Wilbert Cortez, an elementary school teacher at PS 184 in Brooklyn, New York, was accused of inappropriately touching two of his male students. One of the boys reported the abuse to another teacher--three times. The teacher wrote a letter detailing the accusations, and put it in Cortez's personnel file. He did not, however, report the incident to the principal. Shortly after the students made their complaints, school administrators decided to transfer Cortez to PS 174 in Queens. Instead of dealing with the problem, and if appropriate, firing this teacher, they "passed the trash."

     On February 16, 2012, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown charged Wilbert Cortez, now 49, with the sexual abuse of two male elementary students in his computer lab class. The next day, after posting his $50,000 bail, Cortez walked out of the Queen's County Criminal Court building.

     The accused child molester, on May 29, was arraigned on additional charges he had repeatedly molested three male students at PS 174 between 2007 and 2011. Cortez faced up to seven years in prison on each count.

     When word got out that Wilbert Cortez had been accused of sexual molestation back in 2000 at PS 184 in Brooklyn, parents of children who had attended both schools were outraged that education administrators had swept the problem under the rug by sending him to Queens.

     Feeling the heat, Chancellor Dennis Walcott, on May 30, called an emergency meeting with these angry parents. More than 100 people attended the meeting held at PS 174, and they all wanted to know why this teacher hadn't been investigated in 2000. Attendees also expressed concern that the school system's hiring procedures did not screen out pedophiles. Chancellor Walcott told those assembled that his staff would be digging through personnel files looking for old sexual complaints that had been ignored, and "take appropriate action where necessary."

     Chancellor Walcott's response, the promise to fix a problem that shouldn't exist in the first place, didn't satisfy too many people at the meeting. Elementary schools in New York City and around the country are crawling with sex offenders, and because of government laws and regulations that limit what employers can ask job candidates about their past, pedophiles, like foxes into the henhouses, get into our schools. And once they get in, because of teacher's unions, they are hard to get out. Administrators know this. That's why it's just easier to pass the trash. Public education, as we all know, is more about teachers than students.

     On February 25, 2015, Wilbert Cortez pleaded guilty to inappropriately touching one student and endangering three others. Following his guilty plea, Chancellor Walcott stripped him of his New York State teaching certificate.

     Pursuant to the plea agreement, the judge sentenced Cortez to ten years' probation. The molester was also required to register as a sex offender and undergo counseling. Like so many ex-public school teachers like him, he got off light. 

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