A former D.C. elementary school teacher who was arrested last month on charges that he sexually abused three of his students was the subject of a previous investigation into his interactions with children, according to school and police officials.
Manuel Fernandez, 35, who taught at Latin American Montessori Bilingual (LAMB) Public Charter School, has been held in D.C. jail since he was arrested Feb. 24 on three charges of child sex abuse.
Police spokesman Dustin Sternbeck said this week that detectives have interviewed more potential victims but that no additional charges have been filed. One family told The Washington Post that their child was inappropriately touched while a student at the school in 2015, which the parents learned only in February.
Fernandez has been banned from the school’s campus in Northeast Washington since the allegations came to light, and in February he was fired from his teaching position, according to officials at LAMB, one of the District’s most highly regarded charter schools.
The charges he faces stem from alleged sexual assault reported by three of his 8-year-old students, two girls and a boy. They said Fernandez touched them inappropriately in the classroom or at recess, sometimes while giving a hug, according to charging documents.
Both girls said Fernandez touched them over their clothing, and one said Fernandez told her he had “crush on her,” according to the documents. The boy told investigators the teacher touched him on top of and underneath his clothes. The inappropriate touching occurred from August 2016 to February, according to police.
Bernard Grimm, the teacher’s attorney, said that his client “is working with prosecutors to try to resolve this.” A preliminary hearing in the case is scheduled for Wednesday morning.
Fernandez had worked at LAMB since 2012, according to school officials. He was previously investigated by D.C. police in 2015, according to police and school officials. Police said that the investigation was closed without any charges and that there was no evidence that a crime occurred.
LAMB, which also has a campus in Northwest, enrolled about 375 students in preschool through fifth grade last school year.
In response to a Washington Post inquiry about LAMB’s decision to continue Fernandez’s employment after the 2015 investigation, school officials provided a letter sent to parents Tuesday morning.
The letter, signed by the chairman of LAMB’s board, Barrie Lynn Tapia, disclosed the previous investigation and explained that it resulted in no charges and that Fernandez was placed on administrative leave while the probe took place.
The board authorized an investigation into Fernandez’s conduct after he returned from leave in 2015, according to the letter, and hired an outside legal expert to review the school’s policies, procedures, protocols and training.
“As a school, we commit to sharing as much information when we can, without compromising the current criminal matter,” the letter said. “We take our responsibility for safeguarding students as seriously as we take our duty to provide them a quality education.”
The earlier investigation was triggered by an anonymous complainant who saw a teacher take two students into the basement at LAMB, according to a police report filed in January 2015. A law enforcement official with knowledge of the investigation confirmed that Fernandez was the teacher in the report.
The complainant went to check on the students after 20 minutes and found the two students and the teacher still in the basement with the door locked, according to the 2015 report.
“When confronted they had facial expressions as if they were caught doing something wrong,” the complainant told police, according to the report.
The police report did not say anything about the teacher’s explanation of the incident.