RICHMOND (CBS SF) — The West Contra Costa Unified School District is toughening its hiring policies weeks after a popular sixth-grade teacher in El Cerrito was arrested for allegedly molesting six students at his previous workplace in Richmond.

The school board voted unanimously at its meeting in Richmond Wednesday night to change the district’s hiring practices after the March 5 arrest of 32-year-old Ronald Guinto at Mira Vista Elementary School in connection with the alleged sexual abuse of students at his former workplace, Richmond’s Making Waves Academy. He allegedly abused 11-to-13-year-old male students during his time teaching at the charter school.

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Guinto was hired at Mira Vista Elementary last December even as police and Making Waves were investigating the allegations.

District administrators said background checks were done but reference checks weren’t conducted on Guinto because he was considered a re-hire after having worked in the district as a substitute.

The school board revised its hiring policy on Wednesday to mandate reference checks on all staff, including re-hires, substitutes and retirees returning to work, according to school board President Charles Ramsey.

“We were wrong, we acknowledge our failure, and we’re trying to take steps to change it,” Ramsey said.

Charter schools under the district’s jurisdictions will also be required to inform the district whenever a staff member is terminated.

Guinto’s abuse of permission slips also spurred the board to vote to ban the distribution of permission slips from off-campus organizations and reaffirmed that all permission slips must be approved by a school’s principal.

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Principals within the district will undergo a training next month to review field trip permission slip procedures and update the district’s parent handbook.

A short time before Guinto was arrested, he created and sent home permission slips with a handful of students for a four-day, three-night trip to Yosemite that he had organized through his non-profit group, “Camp Epic.”

No other Mira Vista teachers or administrators knew about the field trip, according to Ramsey.

Some of the parents had signed and returned the permission slips before the arrest. The trip was scheduled for April 8-11.

A website for the organization was no longer operational, but an outgoing voice message for Camp Epic says the camp is a place where “the potential to be a leader is found in every young person.”

According to police, much of the alleged abuse occurred during camping trips where Guinto was the sole adult.

Following his arrest, Guinto was charged with more than two dozen felony counts including 13 counts of lewd acts on a child, eight counts of kidnapping, forcible oral copulation, forcible sodomy on a child, sending lewd material to a minor online and dissuading a witness, according to the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office.

He pleaded not guilty at an arraignment in Richmond earlier this month. Guinto is scheduled to return to court in Martinez on Friday to set a preliminary hearing date.

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