RICHMOND -- When Ron Guinto was arrested this week for allegedly molesting his former students on camping trips, the administration at the teacher's new school got a startling call from a horrified mother, one school official said: Guinto was planning to take her son and five others on a similar trip to Yosemite next month.
Even more alarming, the official said, the principal at Mira Vista Elementary School in East Richmond Heights had no knowledge of the trip even though Guinto allegedly used school-issued permission slips. They were due Thursday.
"We dodged a bullet big time," said Charles Ramsey, president of the West Contra Costa Unified School District board. "He was going to take these kids on his own."
Guinto pleaded not guilty Friday in a Richmond courtroom to 27 charges plus enhancements including allegations of kidnapping, forcible lewd acts on a child, sending lewd images to a minor over the Internet, forcible oral copulation on a minor and forcible sodomy on a child. Guinto also allegedly tried to dissuade his victims from talking to police.
Police say they believe Guinto, who apparently took students from several Bay Area communities on camping trips may have had other victims.
If convicted, the Vallejo native faces life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Authorities say six boys ages 11 to 13 who attended Making Waves Academy, a charter school near Hilltop Mall in Richmond, have alleged that Guinto, who was a teacher aide at the school, molested them on camping trips off campus between December 2012 and October 2013. Charging documents released by Richmond police show that the kidnapping charges stem from trips where Guinto took students to unspecified locations in Santa Clara County.
Guinto was fired from Making Waves Academy in November after students brought the allegations to teachers, who contacted police. In January, Guinto was hired to teach at Mira Vista Elementary School, a public school in East Richmond Heights that is part of the West Contra Costa Unified School District.
Officials with the district have said Guinto, who was on a list of district-approved substitute teachers, passed a criminal-background check -- he had a clean record until his arrest this week -- but they admitted they did not call his previous employer for a reference check.
Richmond police, who had been investigating Guinto since November, learned he was teaching again on Tuesday. Detectives sped up their investigation and arrested Guinto Wednesday morning before the start of classes at Mira Vista. Police say they have received no reports of alleged abuse from Guinto's former students at Mira Vista.
On Friday, Ramsey said Guinto was planning to take six male middle school students from his class to Yosemite during the district's spring break from April 8-11. Guinto did not seek the school's permission, which is required for student study trips, according to the district.
The off-the-books trip, Ramsey said, was billed as being part of Camp EPiC, a youth camp Guinto founded about five years ago in his native Vallejo. Previous camps have included students from American Canyon, Richmond, Napa and Vallejo, according to the Vallejo Times-Herald.
"It's scandalous. He sent the field trip forms without the principal's knowledge," Ramsey said.
Ramsey has recommended the school board revise its hiring policy to include reference checks on all potential employees. The board is scheduled to look at the matter at its meeting on March 26.
"I want to acknowledge and tell people we dropped the ball," Ramsey said. "This is a valuable lesson learned. We can and will do better."
Guinto's family refused to comment outside the courthouse Friday. His attorneys, father-and-daughter duo Robert and Anne Beles, said their client has no criminal history and comes from a good family. They refused to comment further, saying they are still in the early phases of reviewing the case.
Guinto remains in custody at County Jail in Martinez in lieu of $17 million bail, up from his original bail set at $1.4 million. Guinto returns to court in Richmond on March 28 at 1:30 p.m. to set a preliminary hearing.
Police believe there are additional victims who haven't come forward and are asking potential victims to call Richmond police detectives at 510-621-1746.
David DeBolt covers breaking news. Contact him in Richmond at 510-262-2728. Follow him at Twitter.com/daviddebolt.