By Stephen Siegel
Falls Church Times Staff
May 25, 2017
Update: This story now includes a response from the Falls Church City Schools and the Manassas Park Police.
Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School math teacher Jose Estrada has pleaded guilty to two counts of aggravated sexual battery involving two female students.
The 36-year-old Clifton resident pleaded guilty Wednesday and is scheduled to be sentenced Aug. 4. A teacher at MEH since 2015, he was removed from the classroom in January, following accusations of inappropriate conduct by two sixth grade girls.
Those accusations led to an investigation by the Falls Church City Police, who subsequently arrested Mr. Estrada in February.
It’s not clear exactly when the offenses occurred, but court documents say the date or dates were sometime between Nov. 1, 2016, and Jan. 17, 2017. It was on the latter date that the first girl came forward, which then led to the investigation.
Mr. Estrada, who taught sixth-grade math, was placed on paid leave after the girls came forward. The decision to offer paid leave rather than to fire him was because he is innocent until proven guilty in the eyes of the law, and school officials wanted police to be able to investigate the situation objectively, spokesman John Brett said at the time.
“This action enabled the Falls Church City Public Schools to ensure the safety of its students while also reserving judgment on the employee,” Schools Spokesman John Brett said in a press release in February. “As a result, at the time of the arrest, the employee was not at the school, nor in contact with students.”
Despite offering that consideration, the school board voted in February not to renew Mr. Estrada’s contract for the 2017-18 school year, and his decision to plead guilty to both counts against him would appear to end any doubt about the veracity of the accusations.
Under state law, Mr. Estrada could be sentenced to up to 20 years in jail, although the court documents say they have an agreement that the sentence is not to exceed 10 years.
When students who had classes with Mr. Estrada suddenly had a new teacher in January, rumors began sweeping the school, with some students suggesting, or questioning if, he was fired.
Questions about why he was removed from the classroom circulated among students as well, and students quickly learned that he was removed for allegations of inappropriate physical contact.
Mr. Estrada began his employment with the Falls Church City schools in July 2015 and previously taught in Manassas Park. Police there announced in March that they are investigating the possibility of other similar incidents. The Falls Church Times inquired with the Manassas Park Police about the status of that investigation, and they report that the investigation is ongoing.
Following Wednesday’s guilty plea, school officials are now moving to reclaim the portion of Mr. Estrada’s pay that has by law been held in escrow since his arrest. “We are filing a petition with the State Board of Education requesting Mr. Estrada’s teaching license be revoked, to eliminate the possibility of his return to the classroom in another school division,” Mr. Brett said.