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Fence now separates sex offender’s home from school

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The Newport-Mesa Unified School District put up this fence between the field at Early College High School and the home of registered sex offender Robert Harrington.
(Hannah Fry, Daily Pilot)

School officials have installed a temporary fence between Early College High School and the Costa Mesa home of a registered sex offender who complained about soccer balls kicked into his backyard.

The issue started when Robert Allan Harrington approached a school security guard the afternoon of Oct. 13 to complain about balls flying onto his property, school officials said.

The exchange between Harrington, 64, and the guard escalated to a point where police were called to the campus at 2990 Mesa Verde Drive East at about 3:30 p.m., said Costa Mesa police Lt. Greg Scott.

“Officers responded and ascertained that there was aggressive posturing and verbal threats from Harrington,” Scott said.

Officers found no crime took place and decided not to make any arrests or take a report, Scott said.

Newport-Mesa Unified officials soon put up a temporary chain-link fence with a green screen to separate the field from the home and are investigating a permanent solution.

“I think it would cause anyone to have concern,” said school Trustee Katrina Foley, who was elected to the City Council on Nov. 4. “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.”

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 from Back Bay High School.

Last month’s incident sparked concern among community members and school board officials.

“I’m concerned that he would get so angry and go over to the school and make a scene in front of our students,” said school Trustee Vicki Snell.

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

One of the boys testified that Harrington offered to teach him how to swim and fondled him repeatedly during 10 swimming lessons early that year.

Harrington was convicted of five felony counts and sentenced to five years, eight months in prison on Dec. 5, 1997.

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

“She is loved by the whole community,” Snell said. “She’s a great principal and a great human being.”

The Harringtons did not return calls seeking comment.

Staff writer Hannah Fry contributed to this report.


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