The news both shocked and outraged: How did a suspected child molester land a job teaching children after being fired by a different school two months earlier?
As Bay Area educators and parents wonder how Ron Guinto was hired to teach at Mira Vista Middle School in Richmond after being fired by a nearby charter school following child sex abuse allegations last fall, the answers reveal loopholes in a new state law intended to protect vulnerable students.
Guinto, 32, has pleaded not guilty to 27 charges 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 while working at the charter school, Making Waves Academy.
He was let go by that school in November as police investigated, but he was quickly rehired in January by the West Contra Costa Unified School District, where he had previously worked as a substitute teacher. The district acknowledged it never called Guinto's references, including Making Waves. Guinto has not been accused of abuse at Mira Vista.
In September, two months before Guinto left Making Waves Academy, Gov. Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 449, sponsored by the California Teachers Association and supported by Democrats and Republicans. The law, which took effect Jan. 1, requires all superintendents and charter school administrators to notify the state Commission on Teacher Credentialing if a credential holder is dismissed, suspended or placed on unpaid administrative leave for more than 10 days following an allegation of misconduct, including sex abuse allegations.
The California Teachers Association hailed the new law, spurred by a notorious case of unreported abuse in Los Angeles, as a step toward "ensuring that persons who pose a threat to students will be removed from the classroom and barred from working in any school in the state."
The law's reporting requirements weren't in place at the time Guinto left Making Waves, and it is not clear how the school handled his departure. Making Waves CEO Alton Nelson declined to say whether he reported Guinto's firing to the credentialing commission, but Mira Vista Elementary Principal Gabriel Chilcott told parents at a March PTA meeting that no one had alerted the state.
But even if an investigation had been launched, the state would not have been required to reveal any information unless Guinto's credential was suspended or revoked.
"We are not authorized to disclose whether a person was ever under investigation by our agency," Sullivan said. So West Contra Costa district officials would have received no warning from the state.
If a police investigation leads to an arrest, the Department of Justice automatically notifies the commission. The commission, however, can automatically suspend a credential only when charges are filed for a serious sex or drug crime, and quickly revoke a credential only if those charges lead to a conviction.
Guinto's credential was suspended March 20, two weeks after charges were filed. That was four months after he was fired by Making Waves and police began investigating.
Those four months were enough time for Guinto to be hired again and to plan an overnight field trip with children, although he was arrested before that trip happened.
West Contra Costa school board President Charles Ramsey said shortly after Guinto's arrest that the district had "dodged a bullet" because prosecutors allege he had abused students on those types of trips in the past.
Like all new hires, Guinto was fingerprinted as part of his application for the Mira Vista job and the prints were sent through criminal background checks at the FBI and DOJ. He passed those with a clean record.
On his resume, obtained through a public records request, Guinto listed no end date to his tenure at Making Waves. He listed three references, none of which were checked, and included five glowing letters of recommendation, all dated before the police investigation.
The West Contra Costa school board has since amended its hiring policy to include mandatory reference checks for all employees regardless of past employment and changed its job application form.
Some other Bay Area districts have long had more rigorous requirements, but they vary. Mt. Diablo Unified requires two reference checks for inside and outside applicants; Sunnyvale requires at least one phone call check; and San Mateo Union has a policy of three calls.
But school officials have to be prepared to ask the right questions and hope they get detailed answer as well.
Schools do not have to explain why an employee left a job and, like other employers, may choose to provide simple boilerplate answers to questions about employment history. State law does not prevent them from divulging that a teacher was being investigated by police or that employment ended after a sexual abuse allegation, but such sharing is not required.
Assembly Bill 215, now moving through legislative committees, would add another layer of protection -- requiring districts that reported "egregious misconduct" to the state credentialing agency to also disclose that to prospective employers if they ask.
Currently, the law is weak in terms of requiring disclosure of misconduct or criminal allegations, simply prohibiting districts from writing affirmative reviews or recommendations that misrepresent an employee's work history. In the 1997 California State Supreme Court case Randi W. v. Muroc Joint Unified, a district knew of misconduct allegations but nevertheless wrote a glowing letter of recommendation for an administrator who was then hired elsewhere and abused more victims. The court ruled employers could be held liable if they provided "affirmative misrepresentation" of an employee that led to physical harm.
While the new legislation may help reveal potential red flags, districts still have to respect due process in cases where someone may have been unfairly accused.
"I wear one hat as a school board member, but I wear another hat as a lawyer," said Ramsey, the West Contra Costa school board president. "You have to go through the whole due process ... or else you can get into a very dangerous, precarious place."
Staff writers Theresa Harrington and Sharon Noguchi contributed to this report. Contact Matthias Gafni at 925-952-5026. Follow him at Twitter.com/mgafni.