Off the books

An accused Paso Robles woman wasn't classified to work with students



Cora Solorio, the 24-year-old woman who will face a preliminary court hearing April 25 on charges of sexual misconduct with a 13-year-old boy, was working outside of her formal job responsibilities when she was in contact with that student and others, New Times has found.

FROM THE TOP :  Paso Robles Superintendent Patrick Sayne said Cora Solorio was qualified to work with students. - FILE PHOTO
  • FROM THE TOP : Paso Robles Superintendent Patrick Sayne said Cora Solorio was qualified to work with students.

# Although Solorio has consistently been identified in media and police reports as a "tutor," "teacher's aide," or "bilingual student aide," Solorio's official title from the time she was hired in 2005 at Flamson Middle School through the time she was charged and placed on unpaid leave in February was "bilingual receptionist."

The Paso Robles School District defines a bilingual receptionist as a clerical job, without responsibilities to work in a teaching or tutoring capacity with students. Numerous sources familiar with Solorio's work said that, despite her title, she was in fact working in the role of a para-educator while she was in contact with numerous students, including the one she's charged with molesting and having oral sex with.

Solorio pleaded not guilty to orally copulating with and committing a lewd act on a child under 14. The student is not being identified. Calls to Solorio's attorney were not returned as of press time.

As defined by state and federal No Child Left Behind law, a para-educator is someone who is expected to work with students in a teaching or tutoring capacity, although they cannot assign grades. The law says they're required to have an Associates Degree or have completed at least two years of college or pass an exam proving competency in, and the ability to instruct students in, reading, writing, and mathematics.

A resume Solorio provided the district when she was hired in 2005 shows she had taken classes at Cuesta College but had not attained a degree at that time.

"She was not qualified to work with students," said Kathryn Nay, president of Chapter 254 of the California School Employees Association and an account technician at Paso Robles High School. "The capacity they were using her for was totally inappropriate."

According to Solorio's job description, provided by the Paso Robles School District in response to a public records request, the job of bilingual receptionist is defined as one that "performs a wide variety of responsible clerical work, office tasks operates a wide variety of office equipment and does other related work as required. Spanish/English oral and written skills required."

The job is defined as clerical, and written examples provided of the duties required include filing, typing, answering calls, and operating office machines. As of July of 2006, Solorio was making $10.31 per hour.

Frank Galicia, the principal at Flamson Middle School, where Solorio worked, did not respond to requests for comment. In initial reports on television and in newspapers, Galicia said Solorio's tutoring work with students was strictly in a volunteer capacity on her lunch breaks, for example.

Attorneys for the school district, however, said the district had no records documenting work she did as a volunteer. The district was asked for an accounting of hours she worked as a volunteer, a description of the duties she was assigned to as a volunteer, and any other information regarding her volunteer work. They responded that they had no records whatsoever on the topic.

Superintendent Patrick Sayne said that, at least for part of her time she interacted with students, Solorio did appear to be performing the duties of a para-educator while she was classified as a receptionist. He said that he talked with Galicia about the principal's apparent failure to accurately classify the work Solorio was doing, but he said the discussion was short of what he would define as a reprimand.

"She was hired originally as a bilingual translator," Sayne said. "It appears [Galicia] had allowed her to expand her role in working with kids. So she was moving past her original job description and working with kids.

"I think probably she was spending time doing what was more closely aligned to a para-educator than it was to a bilingual clerk," he said. "She could have been classified for an hour a day as a tutor and the rest as a translator. To that extent, yeah, I think he should have done that."

Sayne, however, defended the distinction as essentially a paperwork error with little substantive difference in terms of what oversight would have been required of her. He said that Solorio, as a high school graduate who passed a federal criminal background check and a clerical skills test when she was initially hired, would have been allowed to work as a para-educator if Galicia had sought a formal change to her duties.

He said that Solorio's working outside of her classification would likely have been a concern for union representatives, but he said "at most" she would have simply been reclassified.

Nay, of the employees union, said the error was more serious than Sayne described it: "The [No Child Left Behind] test is a very lengthy, very specific test. To say that [a clerical test] qualifies her to work with students is completely erroneous.

"In hindsight, you can say that if she had been in the office where she should have been, maybe this wouldn't have occurred."

Yet even if Solorio were working as a volunteer, it appears her duties fell outside of those outlined in the district's policies regarding volunteers.

According to Paso Robles School District policies, "Volunteers who work with students shall be under the immediate supervision of certificated employees." By all accounts, Solorio met with students independently.

The school district's liability insurer is conducting an independent investigation of school district actions in regard to Solorio, Sayne said. While Sayne said he has no role in that process, he said he hopes the results of the review will ultimately help the district to craft policies regarding when to suspend employees who are accused of misconduct.

In Solorio's case, he said, she was removed from contact with students about 10 days before she was charged criminally, but Solorio was not placed on unpaid administrative leave until she was formally charged.

He said the case began when a middle school counselor reported suspicions about Solorio's interactions with a boy who police have said was also a family friend to county Child Welfare Services. Agency officials told the counselor to contact police directly and he did, Sayne said.

District policy isn't clear as to when to suspend someone accused but not yet charged with abusing a student, he said it's a matter of weighing an individual employee's rights against the need to protect children from harm.

Solorio's personnel file does show that the district provided her with training on sexual harassment and child abuse laws. For example, documents show she watched the child abuse reporting training film "Shadows To Light."

"What we have is somebody who allegedly made a very, very bad, illegal decision," Sayne said. "No amount of training in the world is going to stop somebody from doing something like that."

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