Sunnyvale school closed after employee arrested for sex assault

SUNNYVALE, Calif. (KGO) -- The arrest of a Sunnyvale charter school employee for an alleged sexual assault has uncovered a weakness with charter school oversight statewide. The board discussed pending litigation Monday night. On top of that, county officials say the school opened without completing necessary background checks.

"I am frustrated on a fairly regular basis," said Santa Clara County Superintendent of Schools Jon Gundry.

The Santa Clara County Office of Education grants charters to schools like Spark, but then the power fades.

"Once we authorize a charter they are independent of us," Gundry said. "We have very little authority over the charter schools."

Only after 18-year-old Jonathan Chow was arrested on charges of sexual assault, did it come to light that the Spark Charter School failed to complete state mandated background checks.

"Every employee should have cleared a background check before they started work," said Gundry. "That's HR 101."

Sunnyvale police arrested Chow last week after an 8-year-old girl came forward. He worked as a part-time lunch monitor and teacher's aide at the school with 160 students.

Sunnyvale police say the charter school is working with them.

VIDEO: Sunnyvale charter school set to reopen after assault on 8-year-old

"And if you talk with parents who were at that school they feel like they were assured that people had been background checked. So there were assurances made by the school principal," said Santa Clara County Director of Special Projects Don Bolce.

The Spark board voted on Sunday to temporarily close. Late Monday afternoon, a board member released a statement saying all but one background check had been completed and that Chow was hired as a minor, so any prior problems wouldn't have registered. As of Monday evening, the school said all background checks are now complete and awaiting county approval.

The county is now looking at better oversight for its 23 charter schools.

"We'll be taking a look at our process to see if there's something we can do to make sure this doesn't happen again," said Gundry.

Michelle Martinez is a parent of a first and fourth grader at spark. She told ABC7 News, "This was an affordable option that was supposed to be a great education. Unfortunately, it's taken a turn that had a tragic event and I hope the school can recover from it."

After the board meeting, the school says they are scheduled to reopen Wednesday.

Chow has since been fired as well as two other teacher's aides. And while the board couldn't talk about specifics, they say when the students return on Wednesday, new safety procedures will be in place.
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