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O.C. school installs fence between campus and home of sex offender

Fence installed to separate O.C. students and registered sex offender, but who does it protect?

School officials in Orange County have installed a temporary fence between a Costa Mesa high school and the home of a registered sex offender who lives next to the campus.

But whether the fence was erected to shield students from the man or to prevent soccer balls from flying into his backyard is up for debate.

The fence went up after Robert Allan Harrington complained to security guards at Early College High School last month that soccer balls had been kicked into his backyard -- a confrontation that grew so heated that police said they were summoned.

"Officers responded and ascertained that there was aggressive posturing and verbal threats from Harrington," Costa Mesa police Lt. Greg Scott told the Daily Pilot.

No arrests were made, but a chain-link fence with a green screen quickly went up to separate the school on Mesa Verde Drive East from Harrington, 64.

School Trustee Katrina Foley said the fact that Harrington is a registered sex offender "would cause anyone to have concern."

"We're just trying to make sure our students have a safe environment and there is no reason or cause for students to interact with the resident," she said.

Harrington, a former volunteer football coach at Estancia High School who went by the nickname "Bobcat," was convicted in 1997 of sexual misconduct with two students. He has lived at the Mesa Verde home bordering the school's soccer field since 1970, according to property records.

The district issued a letter to parents Thursday, saying the fence was installed to "block the resident's access and view of the campus to avoid any further contacts or issues."

The letter states that "the district has no authority regarding his place of residence. We do have the ability to apply preventive measures to ensure the safety and security of our staff and students, which is why we have chosen to erect the barrier."

Jessica's Law, passed by California voters in 2006, requires convicted sex offenders to live at least 2,000 yards from a school.

Scott said it was his understanding that Harrington has been allowed to stay in his home because he has lived there for more than 30 years, long before Early College High School moved next door in 2006.

It was not immediately clear whether Jessica’s Law permits such exceptions.

Harrington was arrested in 1996 after police searched his home. Investigators said they later determined that Harrington had shown pornography to two boys, 16 and 17, and had molested them.

Harrington was convicted of five felony counts in 1997 and sentenced to five years and eight months in prison.

Harrington's wife, Barbara, is a former principal of Adams Elementary School in Mesa Verde and is president of the Newport-Mesa Schools Foundation.

The Harringtons did not return calls seeking comment.

William D'Urso writes for Times Community News

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