CHARLOTTE — Changes are being made in Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools after a man who used space on campuses for a student program was charged with crimes against children.
Ricardo Mata, 52, was first arrested in April after the parents of a 7-year-old girl said she was assaulted at a PlaySpanish summer camp in 2017. She is now 8 years old.
Mata is charged with taking indecent liberties with three children, including a 6-year-old.
CMS Superintendent Clayton Wilcox has ordered a review of who can volunteer in the school system and what programs can use school facilities.
Wilcox wants to crack down on crimes against children and has ordered eight actions, including designating that one of five new CMS police officers being added in the district be an expert in student program safety and by creating a safety task force to review volunteer and facilities policies to make recommendations.
All CMS employees and volunteers are required to pass a criminal background check.
Wilcox said Mata passed because at the time he had no prior criminal charges.
PlaySpanish is a Spanish language program that has been offered in some Charlotte-Mecklenburg Public Schools as well as day cares in and around Charlotte.
The organization's website says they've worked with more than 15,000 children over the last 21 years.
In a statement in April, Charlotte Mecklenburg schools said Mata had been a volunteer there until December. He is now banned from school campuses.
E-mail from CMS Superintendent Clayton Wilcox about policy changes:
"Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Parents, Students and Community,
"I am writing to you to inform you about measures the district is taking to protect students in the wake of a recent incident that has affected our school communities.
"Mr. Ricardo Mata was recently charged with crimes against a minor during PlaySpanish, a program he provided outside the CMS curriculum but held in several CMS schools in our community.
"Mr. Mata used school building space for PlaySpanish under the CMS Community Use of Facilities policy and he registered as a CMS volunteer.
"All CMS employees and volunteers must pass background checks.
"Mr. Mata passed volunteer background checks because he had no prior criminal charges.
"Mata's CMS volunteer status was revoked and he was immediately barred from all CMS facilities as soon as he was charged. An active criminal investigation of Mr. Mata is ongoing and CMS is cooperating fully with law enforcement.
"There are no words to adequately describe how traumatizing this incident has been for the victims, families, and school communities affected by Mr. Mata's criminal acts. Mr. Mata was trusted by families, school leaders and students.
"This betrayal is painful and alarming to families, to schools and to the district.
"Clearly, we must act. Programs made possible by Community Use of Facilities policies and adult volunteers help meet the cultural, community, athletic, arts and enhanced education needs of tens of thousands of children every day.
"But we must now take a fresh look at these policies, procedures and practices because we must ensure we are doing all we can to protect our community's children.
"With Board support, I am directing that the following actions be implemented:
"1. Student and family support - CMS is prepared to support students and families with counseling for anyone who wishes to talk. I encourage parents to be aware of their student's behavior and to reach out to their school principal if they feel support is needed.
"2. Student Program Safety Task Force - Board leadership and I will work together to charge a task force to review and make recommendations on CMS Community Use of Facilities policies and regulations, and review CMS volunteer procedures and background check safeguards.
"The task force will include parent, principal, community partner, law enforcement and subject matter expert representatives.
"3. Focused law enforcement - my proposed 2018-2019 budget includes allocation of 5 new officers within CMSPD. I am directing staff that one of those new officers be an expert in student program safety.
"4. Background check review - all CMS employees and volunteers are required to pass a criminal background check before they can begin work with students. I have instructed staff to conduct an immediate review of CMS background check procedures and practices for all volunteers, plus conduct a performance assessment of the district's background check vendor.
"5. Reinforce current policies, practices and procedures - CMS teachers, staff and employees take your student's safety seriously and know that you entrust your most precious people with us every day.
"The district will reinforce the importance of safeguards already in place such as LobbyGuard for all visitors, verification of cleared status for volunteers, and continued awareness to say something if we see something that feels, looks or sounds suspicious.
"6. Community program partners - Thousands of students and volunteers participate in a wide variety of programs outside the CMS curriculum that enrich their lives and meet important needs. We will reinforce that adult volunteers should work in pairs with students and that programs must comply with CUF regulations.
"7. Communications - the district will review communications practices and procedures to ensure that parents are aware and have timely information about matters that might affect our students' safety and well-being. We will also work to make sure you are aware of support available to you and your students when incidents do occur.
"8. Accountability - CMS will provide an update on the status and outcomes of these actions to the Board of Education on a regular basis.
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