San Jose Charter School Closes Temporarily to Run Employee Background Checks

By Michael Klazema on 9/22/2015
It's become woefully common to see headlines about educators who were arrested for molesting or engaging in sexual relations with their students. Such was the case recently at Spark Charter School, a San Jose-area elementary school where a lunchtime monitor and teacher's assistant was arrested for sexually assaulting a young student. Apparently, the school had failed to run background checks on teachers or other employees before opening its doors on August 18th for the new school year. However, the school is taking appropriate damage control measures, temporarily shutting down until it can run checks on every single employee.

On Tuesday, September 15th, the suspect was arrested for molesting an eight-year-old girl at the school. The girl quickly alerted other adults of the incident, and the suspect was arrested on campus later in the day. Police found child pornography on the suspect's devices and are now charging him with a range of different crimes.

According to a report by the San Jose Mercury News, charges include "lewd contact on a child by force, violence, duress, or fear"; "sexual penetration with a child under the age of 10"; "inducing a minor's involvement in child pornography"; and possession of child pornography. Not all of these charges are linked to the incident at Spark Charter School, and most of them have to do with the 600+ piece of child pornography that police found on the suspect's devices.

Spark Charter School is a new school in the area, having welcomed elementary students for the first time in August. The Santa Clara County Board of Education approved the charter that would allow Spark to operate as a charter school. That authorization included several conditions concerning compliance and regulation, one of which was that Spark Charter School would run fingerprint background checks on all employees. The school did not follow that particular guideline and is therefore in breach of the Board of Education's charter authorization. That breach could potentially put Spark Charter School's future in jeopardy.

Officials at Spark Charter School, meanwhile, are pointing the finger elsewhere to explain why they didn't run the required background checks. According to the San Jose Mercury News, who communicated with various school board officials and district administrators to compile their report, schools need an ID number from the California Department of Justice to run fingerprint background checks. Administrators say that the school applied for an ID number in July but never heard back. Rather than reach out again or delay the start of the school year, Spark's officials decided to open the school without background checks.

Through that lens, it really does seem like this incident was a case of negligence on the part of the school. At very least, parents should have been notified that teachers and other employees had not had background checks. It's unclear, at this point, whether or not the suspect has a criminal history or is a registered sex offender. Still, an elementary school opening its doors without first vetting its employees is a massive oversight considering the vulnerability of young students.

The Office of Education told Spark Charter School that they would have to shut down until it could run background checks on all employees. The school finally got a Department of Justice ID and fingerprinted each of its employees on Friday, September 18th. Spark will remain closed until those checks can be processed.

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