A former Farallone View Elementary School custodian, who was arrested for alleged lewd contact with minors on campus, pleaded no contest to charges of child molestation on Wednesday.
Joel Altamirano, a 55-year Half Moon Bay resident, reportedly molested three fifth-grade girls between August 2016 and June 2017.
Authorities began the investigation in 2017after a victim told a counselor at Cunha Intermediate School that Altamirano had inappropriately touched her two years earlier, while attending Farallone View, according to the San Mateo County District Attorney’s Office. Two other victims also came forward with similar stories to share with investigators.
Altamirano faces up to three years in state prison for two charges of child molestation, according to the district attorney. He is expected in court on Jan. 8, 2020 for sentencing and remains in custody on $3 million bail. Altamirano will have to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life, Wagstaffe said.
During court proceedings this week, Altamirano was reportedly stoic as he entered his plea and did not offer any statements to the judge. Pleading no contest is akin to accepting the facts alleged in the case.
“He (Altamirano) has admitted he did the contact,” Wagstaffe said.
Due to the nature of the allegations, Wagstaffe said his prosecutor thought it was better to resolve the case rather than go through a jury process and question the victims in court.
When Altamirano was arrested for the allegations, then-Cabrillo Unified School District Superintendent Jane Yuster sent a letter to the school community updating the case. The district also convened a special meeting to address concerns about the janitor and his alleged contact with students.
This summer, new Cabrillo Superintendent Sean McPhetridge has responded to the incident. The school district held training for all staff to teach prevention of child abuse, sexual harassment and physical assault, according to McPhetridge.
“The district has made significant efforts to follow what are considered to be best practices in the county regarding training of staff with regard to student safety, child abuse, and physical assault,” he said.
As part of the hiring process all new employees are screened through background checks. However, Altamirano reportedly passed fingerprinting and background checks, according to the letter sent by Yuster.
“Unfortunately, sometimes situations arise when background checks are not always going to wind up checking someone before they are hired,” McPhetridge said.
The district also has since worked with San Mateo County School Insurance Group, which requires each staff member to participate in training addressing issues like preventing sexual harassment, school safety, mandated reporter duties and a review of a new school board policy regarding the prevention of child abuse, sexual harassment and physical assault.
McPhetridge explained that the training mandates that no staff should have individual contact with a student.
“Doors should be open and interactions should not be in private places to eliminate the risk of inappropriate behavior or the perception of inappropriate behavior,” he said.
Referring to the case of Altamirano, McPhetridge said, “It’s unfortunate and we will continue to train our staff to reduce the chances of this happening again.”