A Kyle man faces multiple felony charges after authorities suspect he inappropriately touched three Head Start students at Uhland Elementary in late February and early March.
Mark Anthony Ortega, Jr., 29, of Kyle, was booked into the Hays County Jail March 20 on three counts of indecency with a child involving sexual contact, which are all second-degree felonies.
According to an arrest affidavit magistrated by Hays County Pct. 2 Justice of the Peace Beth Smith, a Hays County Sheriff’s Office deputy was dispatched to Uhland Elementary March 8 for a report of a child being inappropriately touched on their “private parts” by a substitute teaching assistant.
Head Start is an independent early-childhood program that operates at several Hays CISD campuses. Head Start employees are not hired by Hays CISD but go through the same screening requirements for public school employees.
Deputies later interviewed a witness who said they saw Ortega, a substitute teaching assistant, March 8 use his hands to touch a five-year-old boy inappropriately outside of his clothing while the child was sitting and playing at a table.
The witness said she was “initially in disbelief” at what she saw and that the touch lasted several seconds. Ortega then made eye contact with the witness, prompting him to stop; he then tried to escort the boy to the bathroom. The witness intercepted the two and notified another teacher, who removed Ortega from the campus.
Authorities learned there was a circumstance two weeks prior to March 8 where Ortega allegedly locked himself in the classroom restroom with a four-year-old child.
After coming back into the campus from outside, the witness said she and another teacher realized a four-year-old child was missing. While looking for the child, both teachers realized the classroom bathroom door was locked. After several minutes, Ortega emerged from the restroom, which was “unusual.” According to the affidavit, Head Start staff is not permitted to use the children’s restroom or enter the restroom alone with a child.
Once told teachers were looking for the child, Ortega allegedly acted “like he didn’t know” where the victim was and began to look for him. Ortega claimed he located the victim behind a bookshelf positioned near the bathroom door. The witness said, however, she would have seen the child behind the shelf if they were hiding behind the bookshelf, which was not tall or wide.
Deputies were then notified of another four-year-old child who reported to a family member they had been touched inappropriately by Ortega.
Authorities interviewed all three victims March 14, with two of them indicating Ortega had touched them inappropriately in the genital area.
In a non-custodial interview with law enforcement, Ortega allegedly admitted to touching the five-year-old while the child was playing at a table in the classroom. He also told authorities he had been alone with one of the four-year-old victims in the classroom restroom and had inappropriately touched the child.
Ortega also allegedly admitted to inappropriately touching the third child while they were seated on the floor playing. Ortega allegedly told authorities he wasn’t sure why he touched them, but realized “it was wrong while he was doing it” and stopped himself each time, according to the affidavit.
In a letter to parents, Uhland Elementary Principal Cynthia Vasquez said campus officials are continuing to take all allegations regarding inappropriate behavior very seriously and that a safe learning environment is vital. Vasquez said Head Start employees are not Hays CISD employees, but are hired using the same screening standards mandatory at all public schools.
Vasquez said the district will continue to make available counseling services to any parent or student at Uhland Elementary.
“My heart aches over this news. I know it is upsetting to you as well. Together, we will continue to support each other through this difficult time,” Vasquez said.
Ortega was released March 21 on $30,000 surety bond.