Spark Charter Temporarily Closed Following Aide’s Arrest

Spark Charter School, where a part-time teacher’s aide was arrested last week on suspicion of molesting a student, has been ordered to close until all employees undergo background checks.

Jonathan Chow, 18, was arraigned Friday on charges of sexual penetration with a child under the age of 10, inducing a child’s involvement in child pornography, downloading hundreds of images of child pornography and lewd contact on a minor by force, violence, duress or fear.

A day after his court hearing, the school announced that the Santa Clara County Office of Education (SCCOE) shuttered the campus until the school conducts background reviews and fingerprint tests on its teachers.

State law already requires those tests, so the school evidently broke the law and its charter agreement by opening in mid-August without vetting the people it employs.

“The county office insists that all requirements be met before Spark reopens,” SCCOE Superintendent Jon Gundry said in a statement. “These serious oversights represent a violation of state law and the terms of their charter, which was granted by the county Board of Education.”

Spark opened this year with 120 kindergarten-through-sixth-grade students on the Columbia Middle School campus. Chow, a part-time monitor and teacher’s assistant, allegedly molested an 8-year-old girl on Sept. 15. The girl reported the incident that same day.

According to the Mercury News, Spark officials applied to the California Department of Justice for an identification number to fingerprint teachers but didn’t receive that number until last week. Employees were fingerprinted on Friday.

“We have an obligation to the families of this county to ensure that regulations are followed regarding the screening of personnel,” Gundry said. “In this case, Spark Charter School failed to obtain the required TB clearances and background checks for its employees. There is no excuse for not following this basic personnel and safety policy.”

A nonprofit board of directors runs Spark Charter independently from the SCCOE. County officials said they first learned of the oversight on background checks after Chow’s arrest.

This is the second arrest of a local education official on molestation and child pornography charges this year.

In the spring, SCCOE worker Edgar Covarrubias Padilla was arrested on suspicion of molesting a child and downloading child pornography. The Walden West science camp employee passed a background check, but public pressure prompted the county to convene a task force to find out whether there were any lapses in security.

The resulting 61-page report included a list of recommendations to make the camp safer by enhancing training for employees and cabin leaders and improving supervision.

Since the allegations surfaced in May, the camp has doubled its overnight staffing, upped the number of permanent employees and implemented a “buddy system” to make sure students are always accompanied by a peer.

Jennifer Wadsworth is the News Editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Newspaper. Email tips to [email protected] or follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.

7 Comments

  1. Hanging is too good for him.

    Ya, not a fan of charter schools. Seems like there’s a lot less rigorous background checks, teacher credentials, and in situations like these, likely no civil payout. A charter school can declare bankruptcy where a government run school can’t.

    • It’s interesting that when a Charter school has an employee like this, the school is closed.

      There are plenty of stories and news reports of similar things being perpetrated by employees of government schools — but are government schools ever closed as a result? No.

      Draw your own conclusions.

      Before anyone says that there were no background checks, I’ll mention that my wife was a school Principal, saddled with a teacher who hit kids, and he regulary shouted things like “F… you!” at students. There were racist incidents, too.

      Her predecesssor Principal had written up that teacher nine times for the same kind of abuse, and what amounted to criminal acts. I won’t go into the immense problems entailed in finally, after years of effort by my wife, in finally getting rid of that teacher for good. Both the teachers’ union and the H.R. department stuck up for him, even with classrooms of witnesses.

      Yes, that teacher who hit kids and yelled obscenities at them had a background check. A lot of good it did. And the school wasn’t closed, not for even an hour.

      So again, draw your own conclusions.

  2. There is no rehabilitation of sexual predators. They are hard wired the way that the are. They should never, ever be let out of prison. Let the drug users out of prisons and rather keep these evil monsters in prison forever. This guy, if guilty, needs to rot in prison, along with all the other predators who are infatuated with the idea, or have actually had sex with a child. Here is a link to the Megan’s Law database of sexual predators in California. Play around with it and see how close these perverts live to you and the access they have to children. If I were king, there would be no need for this database as they would never be freed from prison. http://www.meganslaw.ca.gov/

    • There is no rehabilitation for the vast majority of criminals. The skills do not yet exist to permanently change the antisocial/criminal behavior of adult career criminals. The notion of rehabilitation is a cruel joke foisted on the law abiding public, and does little more than line the pockets of its advocates and practitioners. Everything they have tried so far has failed, as proven by the extremely high rate of recidivism. Some people may be born criminals…I don’t know. However, I am convinced that most criminals are wired as such in the first 3-5 years of their lives, and no-one has a clue how to rewire them.

      • I agree with you JMC. Sexual predators, especially those that prey on children, are monsters that are the lowest form of humanity. They are evil personified. They get out of jail or prison and have no less desire or control of that desire to victimize another child. These scumbags need to spend their days on earth never seeing the outside of a prison. They should also not be locked up in security housing units for their own protection, and instead be put in general population.

  3. So, apparently Mr. Gundry is too busy awarding non-competitive contracts to friends and the SCCOE Board of Trustees is too busy making up excuses for why they have not discharged their duty to oversee Mr. Gundry, and to ensure that places like Spark School and Walden West are obeying the law. Gundry issued this statement: “These serious oversights represent a violation of state law and the terms of their charter, which was granted by the county Board of Education.” Yo, Gundry, it also illustrates the SCCOE’s lack of oversight to keep our kids safe. Granted, it seems that such a background check may not have revealed young Mr. Chow’s predilection for young kids, since apparently he had no record. However, just the thought of a test may have scared Mr. Chow enough that he would have withdrawn his job application. Doesn’t SCCOE have a checklist of requirements that each charter school must fulfill before it is allowed to open? Does anyone at SCCOE check to ensure compliance? How hard can it be to prepare and implement such a system? This incident is yet another sad example of the worthlessness of the SCCOE, its Board, and its Superintendent.

    • JMO says:

      Doesn’t SCCOE have a checklist of requirements that each charter school must fulfill before it is allowed to open? Does anyone at SCCOE check to ensure compliance? … This incident is yet another sad example of the worthlessness of the SCCOE, its Board, and its Superintendent.

      Couldn’t agree more. If Charter schools were required to do background checks, or anything else required of gov’t schools, they would certainly comply. It would be just another requirement on top of all the other requirements necessary to open a school.

      The problem lies primarily with the Board abnd superintendent. The buck stops there.