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Hillsboro elementary teacher charged with possessing child pornography

Former Orenco Elementary School teacher Brett Cunningham was placed on administrative leave on May 5 and resigned on September 14.
Credit: Google Earth

HILLSBORO, Ore. — An elementary school teacher in Hillsboro was charged for allegedly being in possession of and duplicating child pornography.

40-year-old Brett Cunningham, a former teacher at Orenco Elementary School, is charged with two counts of encouraging child sexual abuse in the first degree and eight counts of encouraging child sexual abuse in the second degree. None of the charges against Cunningham allege physical contact with a minor. A Multnomah County grand jury indicted him on September 21.

The school was first alerted to the investigation on May 5 and placed Cunningham on administrative leave. Orenco principal Allison Combs said the former teacher has not returned to the school since. Cunningham resigned in lieu of termination on September 14.

The investigation began in April when the Oregon Department of Justice received a cybertip from an internet company that discovered one of its users possibly uploading images of child pornography.

In May, the Oregon Department of Justice Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force executed a court-authorized search warrant and recovered electronic media that was then submitted for forensic evaluation. During the investigation, law enforcement learned Cunningham is a licensed teacher in Oregon.

"Obviously, we are devastated by this situation," said Principal Combs in a letter to Orenco Elementary School families on Wednesday. "The safety and wellbeing of our students is our top priority, and we have zero tolerance for behaviors that could jeopardize students’ welfare."

Combs also answered some questions families might have about Cunningham and the investigation. The full text of the Q&A is below.

Q&A with Orenco Elementary School principal Allison Combs

Q. How long has Mr. Cunningham worked for Orenco and what grades did he teach?

A. Mr. Cunningham began substitute teaching at Orenco in the 2013-14 school year. He was then hired as a 2nd grade teacher in 2014. After two years teaching 2nd grade, he taught a year of 4th grade and a year of 5th grade before teaching kindergarten in the 2019-20 school year. He successfully passed a criminal background check before being hired into HSD. 

Q. Why didn’t you tell us about this sooner?

A. This is a law enforcement matter. We were only given limited information as they conducted their investigation and were not at liberty to share any details. 

Q. Why was he allowed to stay employed for so long?

A. He was placed on leave immediately when we were notified that an inquiry was underway. Everyone is afforded due process under the law. The authorities needed time to conduct their investigation and were not ready to issue indictments until recently. At that point, HSD was able to begin its investigation and pre-termination process. On September 14, 2020, Mr. Cunningham resigned in lieu of termination. 

Q. Do we need to be concerned about our students?

A. None of the charges against Mr. Cunningham allege physical contact with a minor; however, given Mr. Cunningham’s access to children, the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office is requesting public assistance with this investigation. Anyone with information should contact Oregon Department of Justice Special Agent Tyler McCourt at 503-934-1107.


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