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.