Sunnyvale Charter School Closed for Background Checks After Molestation Arrest

Classes are canceled at a new South Bay charter school following the arrest of a teacher's aide charged with molesting an 8-year old student.

Spark Charter School in Sunnyvale opened this school year, on Aug. 18, but it is closed to students as of Monday. The school's principal said the school will reopen no later than Wednesday.

Santa Clara County Office of Education officials are scheduled to visit the campus on Tuesday and review the background checks that have completed on the school's employees.

It wasn't until police were investigating molestation and child porn accusations against Jonathan Chow that the security lapse came to light. Chow was arraigned Friday on five felony charges connecting to the alleged assault. His next scheduled court appearance is scheduled for Oct. 16.

Chow, 18, was a part-time lunch monitor and extended care teacher's assistant, public safety officials said.

At Santa Clara County’s minimum security Elmwood Correctional Facility, Chow stressed he didn’t want to say anything that would interfere with his court case.

“I want people not to rush to judgment before the trial,” he said.

Chow also acknowledged that he has tried to communicate with the alleged victim.

“Everything that needs to be said is already said,” he added. “I wrote her a personal letter and I hope she sees it. I think she deserves a break from the media right now because it was a very personal letter.”

Although Chow declined to comment about reports that say, based on court documents, that he apparently confessed.

“Judge me for what I have done and do not drag my family into this,” he said. “I have done what I have done and my family is not part of this.”

Meanwhile, none of the charter school’s 160 K-6 grade students, seven teachers or staff were anywhere to be seen Monday on the small campus on Sunnyvale's Morse Avenue.

Spark Superintendent-Principal Danni Tsai said the school will remain closed at the request of Santa Clara County's Office of Education until fingerprint results of its personnel have led to completed background checks as required by county education officials who authorized its charter allowing it to open.

The school was to have completed background checks before opening. Tsai said the state Justice Department didn't assign the school a corresponding identification number until three days after Chow was arrested.

"Although all of Spark's teachers were fingerprinted at their prior schools, the state requires that teachers be fingerprinted at their new school and the results filed at that school," Tsai said in a statement.

The school is independently operated and governed through its nonprofit board of directors, county Superintendent of Schools Jon Gundry said.

"We have an obligation to the families of this county to ensure that regulations are followed regarding the screening of personnel," he said. "In this case, Spark Charter School failed to obtain the required [tuberculosis] clearances and background checks for its employees. There is no excuse for not following this basic personnel and safety policy."

The school's charter can be immediately revoked by the board of education if there is a risk for student safety, according to Gundry.

"This is highly unusual for a school to open without completing background checks," Gundry said. "I haven't seen this happen before in any public school, charter or traditional district school."

Spark's school board at a meetng on Monday announced that three employees, including Chow, were fired. Board members would not comment as to why the employees were let go, citing that it is a confidential personnel matter.

Bay City News contributed to this report.

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