A former elementary school teacher who taught the children of U.S. Army troops is facing decades in prison after his conviction on multiple charges for sexually abusing his students.
Stefan Zappey, 56, of Stuttgart, Germany, taught first through third grade at Alexander M. Patch Elementary School, which serves military families stationed at the U.S. Army garrison in Stuttgart. He’s been convicted of inappropriately touching at least four students while working there, the Justice Department announced in a press release Thursday.
The U.S. government employed him between 2001 and 2021 through the Department of Defense Education Activity, which manages schools for children of military families around the world.
Zappey was convicted on four counts of aggravated sexual abuse of a child, as well as four counts of abusive sexual contact. He’s set to be sentenced on May 2, with a mandatory minimum of 30 years in prison.
The investigation into Zappey began in 2020, when Army criminal investigators were first notified of a report from one of his former students that, between 2009 and 2010, he’d inappropriately touched her under her clothing. Three more former students told investigators that Zappey had put his hand in their underwear and touched their genitals.
Investigators interviewed other students and faculty who said Zappey often hugged students, sat them on his lap, and reached under their clothes to touch them. At the time, the victims were between six and eight years old, according to the release.
Zappey’s then-current students were also interviewed, according to court documents reported by Stars and Stripes.
“Multiple current students describe sitting on Zappey’s lap and placing their heads on his lap, but they state that this touching does not make them uncomfortable,” court records stated.
One staff member who’d known Zappey for eight years said he “would train students to become ‘really touchy feely,'” according to court records. Multiple staff members said they noticed unusual touching and hugging.
Asked whether the agency could have intervened in the situation, a DODEA spokesperson said only that any time there is a serious incident at a school, there is “review of the facts and surrounding circumstances, as well as applicable policies, standards and practices,” Stars and Stripes reported.