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Classroom volunteer was a sex offender

February 02, 2007|Valerie Reitman | Times Staff Writer

Torrance Unified School District officials say they've clarified procedures to prevent convicted sex offenders from volunteering in schools, following an uproar by parents who learned that a convicted offender was helping out in his child's kindergarten classroom with the school's knowledge.

The controversy culminated in a stormy meeting Wednesday night, when upset parents at Anza Elementary School grilled school and district officials about why parents were not informed and why it had taken officials so long to respond to complaints.

The case illustrates a conflict between the rights of convicted offenders as parents and the rights of other parents wanting to protect their children from possible danger.

Mark Kenneth Vasquez had been volunteering in his 5-year-old son's classroom for one hour a week since a Sept. 27 ruling in his child-custody battle in Los Angeles County Superior Court.

Commissioner Reva Goetz ruled that Vasquez "may volunteer at the school for no more than one hour per week at the school and shall not be at the school for any other reason unless as requested by the school for a pre-scheduled school event, such as a chaperon."

Vasquez had presented the custody agreement to the school when he began volunteering.

Vasquez, who has registered his address with police annually as required by law, violated no criminal codes in volunteering at the school, said Torrance Police Lt. Rod Irvine, a department spokesman, who investigated the issues after the case was brought to the attention of authorities last month.

Vasquez is one of 95 convicted sex offenders living in Torrance, and none of them are considered high-risk or violent to children, Irvine said. California educational codes specify that sex offenders cannot volunteer at schools, but those are not enforceable by police, Irvine said. According to the California attorney general's office, the codes require sex offenders to be on "lawful business" if on school grounds, which would cover a parent participating in school activity, said spokeswoman Robin Deller.

Police do not have a record of the crime Vasquez committed -- nor did the state attorney general's office. He is listed on the Megan's Law website in California that shows pictures of convicted sex offenders and, if they are considered high risk, their addresses.

But because he committed his crime in Louisiana, details aren't on the California site. Nor does he appear in Louisiana's sex-offender site, since he no longer resides there. Louisiana's criminal records are difficult to obtain, and many aren't available in national databases.

A Los Angeles Times criminal records search on Vasquez turned up two arrests for alleged sex offenses, but both cases were dismissed. A jury in Virginia found him not guilty of breaking and entering with intent to rape in 1992, and a sexual battery charge in Pasadena in 1998 was dismissed.

The Daily Breeze newspaper reported Wednesday that Vasquez pleaded guilty to two counts of sexual battery in Alexandria, La., in 1996. Police told the Breeze that the conviction concerned an adult and a child -- but that the case file would take longer to locate.

Criminal records from Louisiana could not be obtained Wednesday, and Vasquez could not be reached for comment. Paul Clark, who lives on the same street as Anza Elementary School, said Vasquez told him a few years ago that the allegations were concocted by a spiteful ex-spouse.

Schools Supt. George Mannon said officials had talked to Vasquez and that he said he would no longer volunteer at the school. Mannon said the district already screens volunteers against the Megan's Law website. Anytime "there's a court order requiring us to allow someone to volunteer on a school campus, it will be brought to me."

Meanwhile, parents at Wednesday's meeting brainstormed about their own potential security measures, including gates that would force all those who enter the school to walk by the office.

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valerie.reitman@latimes.com

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