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DOE To Review 1,000 Cases Against School Staff Following Latest Sex Abuse Charges

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The city Department of Education is promising to make major changes in disciplinary policy following a string of arrests of employees for inappropriate acts with children.

Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott outlined the changes in a letter sent home to parents Friday.

According to the Department of Education, 1,000 current public school staff who have any substantiated charges filed against them since 2000 are having their cases reviewed to see if they had inappropriate relationships or sexual misconduct with children.

The department will then take appropriate actions on a case-by-case basis, principals will know about any substantiated charges against school employees, and the employees involved could lose their jobs.

"If there's a substantiated case of improper touching, that person will be removed. And removed, that will seek that person's dismissal. I am not going to allow anyone to be in the position of touching our children and having a case substantiated that that took place, and being in our school system," Walcott told reporters.

Currently, three DOE employees are facing charges.

Wilbert Cortez, 49, was arraigned Thursday for allegedly fondling two young male students at P.S. 174 in Rego Park, Queens. Investigators say the abuse took place between September 2010 and June 2011 and involved a now eight-year-old and a nine-year-old boy.

The DOE says while Cortez has no criminal history, a special commissioner investigation back in 2000 found Cortez had inappropriately touched two boys at P.S. 184 in Brooklyn.

Investigators say a disciplinary letter was put in Cortez's file, which his current principal was not aware of, and that no further actions were taken.

Parents at P.S. 174, who were notified about the allegations against Cortez in a letter sent home with students, met with Walcott for about two hours Friday morning.

"I never seen him raise his voice or something. He was very nice with the kids," said one parent.

"I can't believe it because he was such a good teacher and he taught me basketball, and he taught computers, and no sexually looking at other students in any way, or anything like that," said one student.

Cortez, who was removed from the classroom, is due in court on March 19. If he is found guilty on all charges, he could face up to seven years behind bars.

Earlier this month, paraprofessional Gregory Atkins, 56, was arrested on charges he molested a young boy at P.S. 87.

In 2006, investigators determined Atkins had an inappropriate relationship with a boy at another school. When Atkins switched schools, the new principal was unaware of the previous incident.

Also, Taleek Brooks, 40, is facing child porn charges for allegedly filming students at P.S. 243.

The schools chancellor is promising full cooperation with all investigations.

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