Former Alief ISD teacher fights for elementary school's safety after trespasser tries to take kids

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- A former Alief ISD teacher said both the district and the City of Houston are not doing enough to protect the safety of students and staff at one of its elementary schools.

"My life changed completely because I started getting really stressed," said Marie Cortes, following the events of a 30-minute recess at Best Elementary School that still haunts her.

Cortes said a strange woman walked onto the playground and tried to take a child.

"She said it was her daughter and I said, 'Ma'am, you need to go check in at the front office if this is your child. You need to go check in. I cannot let her go,'" said Cortes. "And then she got upset. She started pulling the student. I immediately put my arm between her and the student. I said, 'Ma'am you need to go to the front office. You cannot take my student and you need to stop pushing her and pulling her.' And she hit me on my arm and then when I picked up my phone to call the principal to get help, she immediately hit my other hand. My phone fell on the concrete and cracked."

Cortes said another staff member witnessed the trespasser and the assault and intervened to save the student.

As students were rushed indoors, that same trespasser approached another child who Cortes said was out of her sight.

The 7-year-old told ABC13 she was grabbed by the wrist. She said the woman said things about having food ready in a car and threatened to take the girl's necklace.

Fortunately, another staff member witnessed it and got the child away.

That attack happened in December 2021.

The first grader's mother said her daughter still has emotional break downs over the incident.

"The lady at the school only said, 'I'm sorry,' and that's it," said Thelma Del Angel.

Del Angel said she wants to see Best Elementary and Alief ISD take action.

She said the playground at the school is not secured. There is a chain link fence that does not surround the entire play area and where it does exist, it has been broken.

Cortes said that after she was attacked by the trespasser, she asked for the fence to get fixed but got no response from the school or district.

"Nothing has been done and the stress level has increased in a lot of the staff too. The security are also feeling unsafe," said Cortes.

It led her to resign and now fight for a new fence after Del Angel said another trespasser walked through the playground last week.

Alief ISD sent ABC13 the following statement:

"On Dec. 14, 2021, district officials were made aware of an incident that occurred at recess where an individual accessed the area and two students were approached by an older thin, black-haired Hispanic woman, believed to be mentally impaired. Best Elementary staff immediately intervened, called 911 to report the incident, and the campus was placed on a lockout while Alief police conducted an investigation. In response to the incident, recess was moved indoors for the remainder of the week. In addition, an additional Alief Police Department patrol officer was assigned to the school and remains indefinitely. On Dec. 14, parents were informed of the incident, as well as the modifications to recess. No additional incidents have been reported. The district has been in communications with City Councilmember Edward Pollard for several years to address the safety concerns in the area surrounding Best Elementary. We look forward to the city implementing additional supports for children and families in the area."

The school is located off Bissonnet near U.S. 59 in Pollard's District J.

Pollard's office said in a statement:

On December 15, 2021, our office received an email from Alief ISD Superintendent Chambers requesting additional law enforcement presence at Best Elementary in response to an isolated incident that happened at the school. Our office immediately notified leadership with HPD Westside Station. Our office received confirmation from West Side that they received our email regarding the isolated issue and were investigating it. In the two years Council Member Edward Pollard has been in office, he has consistently focused on public safety improvements within District J and the greater Houston area.
Cortes said she plans to address the serious issue with Pollard and the entire council during Tuesday's city council meeting. Del Angel said she plans to attend for support.

"I'm just here to ask and plead for the fence and the protection of the children here," said Cortes.

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