A now-former teacher in Houston Independent School District who is accused of “touching and looking at several girl students in their private parts” received an additional felony charge during a court appearance on Monday.
Manuel Edgardo Ponce, 45, who taught at Sutton Elementary School, now faces six felony charges for sexually abusing several young students.
The charges include three first-degree felonies for continuous sexual abuse of a child, each punishable by five to 99 years in prison.
One victim told police that Ponce would “look down her pants almost every day in school” during 2019 and 2020, when she was in his second-grade class.
A Houston ISD Police Department detective said in a complaint that Ponce “with intent to arouse and gratify [his] sexual desire” regularly pulled the girl’s pants and underwear and “looked inside her underwear at her exposed vagina.”
The victim said Ponce would tell all the students except her to take a restroom break, and as everyone else was in the restroom, she was alone with Ponce in the classroom and he would look at her vagina.
At least seven victims told authorities they were touched by Ponce during the 2021-2022 school year, according to KPRC Click2Houston.
Prosecutors said one of them reported being touched at least three to five times a month for the entire school year. Another child said she was touched at least twice—once on her birthday and another time in December during a pajama day at school.
Two teachers said they grew suspicious when they saw Ponce’s students unattended in the hallway while he was inside the classroom.
Ponce was allowed to resign in July 2022.
On February 10, 2023, Ponce was charged with three counts of continuous sexual abuse of a child, a first-degree felony punishable by five to 99 years in prison; one count of indecency with a child by sexual contact, a second-degree felony punishable by two to 20 years in prison; and one count of indecent exposure, a misdemeanor.
On June 2, the misdemeanor was upgraded to a third-degree felony, indecency with a child by exposure, punishable by two to 10 years in prison.
According to the State Board for Educator Certification, Ponce received his classroom teacher certificate in October 2021. SBEC records show his certificate is still valid but he is “under review” by the Texas Education Agency’s Educator Investigation Division.
Ponce is not in the TEA’s Do Not Hire Registry, a list of people who are ineligible for hire in a Texas public school based on misconduct or criminal history—including teachers whose certificates are revoked for abuse or inappropriate relationship with a student or minor.
His attorney said Monday that Ponce is “presumed innocent,” adding “there is a lot of trouble apparently with the DA’s case,” though she did not elaborate.
Ponce is free on a $205,000 bond.
He is one of dozens of Texas teachers accused of sex crimes involving students and other minors in recent months.