A third-grade teacher sexually abused one of his 8-year-old students in a classroom and instructed her to send him affectionate emails, prosecutors said Thursday.
Rafael Sosa, 29, repeatedly molested the girl over the last six months while befriending her family, the Manhattan district attorney's office said. Sosa was being held on $75,000 bail after his arraignment in at least the 10th case against a public or private school employee facing sexual charges involving students in New York City in recent months.
Defense lawyer Virginia LoPreto said Sosa, a married father, was eager "to establish the fact that he is not guilty of these charges."
"These are allegations and not proof," she told a judge.
Sosa, who has been teaching at a Harlem elementary school, was removed from the classroom after his arrest.
Prosecutors said the teacher built a rapport with the girl, calling her his daughter, and gave her access to his email account and told her to send him messages saying "My heart belongs to you" and similar sentiments. He gave her siblings sneakers, electronics and other gifts, Assistant District Attorney Colleen Walsh said.
Parents of students who were familiar with Sosa were surprised to hear about the charges.
"I'm finding it difficult to believe, " said one mother. "Now I have to tell my daughter that this man -- her first male teacher -- has done this to a child. And she has been around him, on occasions alone. That could have been my child."
In other recent teacher arrests, a female Brooklyn public high school teacher was arrested last month on statutory rape charges involving a 16-year-old male student, a former math teacher at a prestigious Bronx private school was charged in April with having sexual encounters with a 15-year-old girl he taught, and a computer teacher at a public elementary school in Queens was arrested in February and ultimately charged with molesting five boys, who were 6 to 10 years old.
Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott has vowed to step up investigation into employees accused of misconduct, and is pushing legislation that would give him power to fire teachers guilty of inappropriate behavior.
"Teachers are there to teach, they're there to work with our students," Walcott told NBC 4 New York Thursday. "They're not there to have any type of relationship or contact with our students in a sexual way, no matter how old the student might be."
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