RICHMOND -- West Contra Costa school district trustees made good on their promise to change their hiring policies to ensure that references will be called for all new hires and returning employees after a Mira Vista Elementary School teacher was arrested on suspicion of molesting students at his previous charter school job.
The board on Wednesday agreed there is no foolproof way to prevent a teacher from acting inappropriately with students. However, they expressed hope that hiring policy revisions they approved will be a step in the right direction.
The discussion came in the aftermath of the arrest of teacher Ronald Guinto earlier this month on suspicion of molesting students who attended the Making Waves Charter School, where Guinto previously worked.
Although Guinto listed Making Waves as his previous employer, no one from the West Contra Costa district called that school because the sixth-grade English and science teacher had previously worked as a district substitute and was considered a rehire instead of a new hire.
"No one's saying the human resources department failed," said Board President Charles Ramsey. "We want to make sure parents know their kids are safe."
Trustee Todd Groves said the district had changed its procedures after the arrest, when the district was widely criticized for its lax hiring practices.
After discussing additional steps that could be taken, trustees agreed that charter schools approved by the district should also be required to check references for all employees. In addition, trustees said they would ask the Contra Costa County Board of Education, which oversees the Making Waves Charter School, to require charter schools it approves to follow the same procedures.
Any time an employee is placed on administrative leave or stops working at a school due to suspected wrongdoing, the district or charter school is required to inform the state Commission on Teacher Credentialing, said Ken Whittemore, assistant superintendent for human resources.
However, the state agency cannot suspend or revoke a credential until a teacher is formally charged with a crime. An investigation or even an arrest do not reach the threshold for action.
Superintendent Bruce Harter suggested that if an employee leaves a district-approved charter school under a cloud of suspicion, that school should also be required to inform the district. He said the district could ask the County Board of Education to require the same thing of charters it approves, so that other school officials in the area would know.
Trustees also asked district staff to clarify the district's procedures for field trip permission slips. Guinto sent a Camp Epic field trip permission slip home to parents, which was not approved by the school principal.
Whittemore said he would discuss the district's procedures with principals next month and revise the parent handbook to explain it in more detail.
Ramsey suggested that all field trip permission forms be approved by school principals and that organizations hosting field trips that are not school-related be prohibited from distributing information about such trips on school campuses.
"I think this can be a lesson to the thousands of school districts in California," Ramsey said. "We did dodge a bullet."