Thursday, May 12, 2016
MS: No policies in place to address sex offenders in schools
Though most crimes committed by juveniles are not public record, juveniles convicted of sexually violent crimes are required to be publicly listed on the Kansas Bureau of Investigation offender registry. For those 18 and older, all serious sex, violent and drug offenses are posted.
But because the district does not monitor the online database, a
registered sex offender attended Lawrence High School for nearly 18 months. Had the district been aware of his past crimes, state law would have required that all teachers and staff involved with the student be notified. The LHS student newspaper The Budget first reported two weeks ago that a registered sex offender had been attending the high school.
Following the student’s recent arrest for alleged sex crimes against a minor, district leaders aren’t sure how a similar situation would be dealt with in future. For the district to begin monitoring the offender registry would require a policy decision by the school board, said David Cunningham, director of human resources and legal services for the district. Cunningham said the possibility of regularly monitoring the offender registry is a broad issue that he thinks would require a lot of conversation.
“I don’t know what the board would want us to do or whether that would be something from a policy or legal perspective that would be appropriate,” said Cunningham, who is also a member of the board’s policy advisory committee. “It kind of depends on what is the goal? What do you want to accomplish once you have the information? What are you going to do with it? So, I would say that’s something that we have not discussed at this point.”
The student in question transferred from another school district three years after his conviction in another Kansas county. In 2011, when he was 13, he was convicted of two sex crimes against an 8-year-old girl: aggravated indecent liberties with a child and lewd and lascivious behavior. He began attending LHS in 2014, and earlier this year the now 18-year-old student was charged with similar crimes.
In February, the student was charged with one felony count of aggravated indecent liberties with a child under the age of 16. The two did not attend the same school, and the victim told officers that she and the student were dating but had only met a few times, according to the arrest affidavit. The victim said she was 14 and the student stated he “knew (the victim) from following her on Instagram and mutual friends,” according to the affidavit. The case is pending in Douglas County District Court.
Even serious sex, violent and drug offenders are entitled by law to an education. In Kansas, registered offenders can enroll in public school without schools receiving direct notification from state or local law enforcement. The responsibility of checking the offender registry is left up to schools, but there are no requirements that schools check the registry or policies regarding how registered offenders should be educated if schools are aware of their past crimes. School districts can make policies requiring the appropriate staff to monitor the registry, but the Lawrence school district does not have such a policy.
How student offenders are handled
Despite the right to an education, districts can take precautions if they realize a registered offender has enrolled. But without any laws or policies outlining how schools track or accommodate registered offenders, how the district would handle a similar situation in the future isn’t clear. School board member Shannon Kimball, a former attorney and member of the board’s policy advisory committee, said the implications of creating a policy to monitor the offender registry would have to be carefully considered.
“It’s a matter of balancing a student’s right to an education versus another student’s right to be safe in receiving their education,” Kimball said. “…What would we do with the information? Does that mean that every student that’s a registered sex offender we somehow have to isolate them from the rest of the population? I don’t know that that’s the right answer or an appropriate answer, but those are issues we’d have to think very carefully about.”
Potential policy changes are first considered by the board’s policy advisory committee, which is made up of Cunningham, Kimball and school board President Vanessa Sanburn. If after study the committee decides to recommend a change to district policy, the committee then submits the recommendation to the school board for final approval.
There are alternatives to educating registered offenders alongside other students. For instance, the district could decide to place the student in the district’s virtual school. Cunningham said that he thinks such decisions should be made case by case. Though he said he couldn’t discuss the specific situation from this year, generally speaking, Cunningham said that making a decision to educate students separately has to be balanced against their statutory and constitutional right to attend school.
“I don’t know that one should make generalized decisions based on (registered offender) status alone,” Cunningham said. “…You’ve got to balance everybody’s rights to some extent here. So, I don’t know that you can say that there’s an absolute rule or policy that ought to be in place related to this.”
Cunningham said the student in question began attending LHS in August 2014 and was a student at the school until February — the month he was charged with his most recent alleged crimes. As a registered sex offender, the details of his past convictions are listed on the offender registry, along with his home address and the address of LHS.
Both adult and juvenile offenders are required to register the address of any school they attend; however, state law does not require state or local law enforcement agencies to notify a school district when a registered offender provides a school address.
State laws and board policies
Other states and school districts have more directly addressed how registered offenders who enroll in public schools are handled. While no school can bar students because of their criminal history, some have firmer policies or practices in place regarding how they are educated.
In Missouri, districts typically choose to educate students who are registered sex offenders separately, said Kelli Hopkins of the Missouri School Board Association. The MSBA has a policy based on state law that states those convicted of a sex offense involving a minor are banned from school campuses, though the rule doesn’t apply to “a student entitled by law to be on district property for educational services if the student's presence is necessary to obtain those services.” Hopkins said that what ends up happening is that most students who have committed such crimes are not educated alongside others.
“In practice, what really happens is if you’ve got a child who is on the sex offender list, they’re going to find a way to educate that child at an alternative setting,” Hopkins said. “Some districts have alternative schools, some will do it via home school, some will have a private tutor meet them at the public library, other locations.”
On the other hand, Nebraska does not have specific procedures in place, according to Jim Luebbe, director of policy services for the Nebraska Association of School Boards. Luebbe said that he is not aware of any specific instances of known juvenile sex offenders moving from one district to another, or how the local enforcement officials would handle such a situation.
“I don’t know how well the sex offender notification process is working in Nebraska or whether there is any special procedure in place if the offender is a juvenile still attending school,” Luebbe said via email.
In Kansas, while state law — the School Safety and Security Act — does not require districts to monitor the offender registry, it does mandate certain actions when a school employee finds out a student has been convicted of a felony other than felony theft. The employee is required to inform the school superintendent, who must then provide the reported information and identify the student to all school employees who are directly involved in teaching or providing other school related services to the student. But in order for the act to apply, a school employee must first be aware of a student’s crimes.
In contrast to the Lawrence school district, the administrators with the Baldwin City district do “periodically check” the offender registry, according to Superintendent Paul Dorathy. Dorathy said via email that Baldwin doesn’t currently have any registered offenders enrolled in its schools, but that the district does have a policy based on the School Safety and Security Act that would require the appropriate administrators and teaching staff to be informed if a student was a registered offender.
The Eudora school district does not have a policy or procedure that involves having a district employee check the offender registry, according to Kristin Magette, director of communications. Magette said that information could be provided by a School Resource Officer, and that a student who is a sex offender would not be excluded because of that status.
“In the case of a sex offender in our schools, we would focus on training for staff and ensuring adequate enforcement of a restraining order,” Magette said via email.
Checking the offender registry
State law requires the department of education to notify schools of the online offender registry “for the purpose of locating offenders who reside near such school.” The department sends an email twice per year that informs all schools that the online database provides information about registered offenders, according to Denise Kahler, director of communications for the Kansas State Department of Education. Kahler said there are no laws or policies requiring districts or schools to check the offender registry.
“Schools may inquire and may have policies to inquire about students’ placement on an offender registry but there are no laws or requirements for such a policy,” Kahler said in an email.
Even though the Lawrence district does not have a policy requiring that the offender registry be checked, someone at LHS eventually became aware that the student was a registered offender. Cunningham said he was told someone who worked at LHS notified administration after he or she saw a news article and “drew a connection.” Cunningham said he did not know whether that notification occurred before of after the student’s most recent arrest in February.
“I don’t know at what point in time they became aware of it and then at what point in time they made administration aware of the situation,” Cunningham said. “So, a number of things occurred there with various people, but I don’t have specific knowledge of who or when.”
The student was arrested in February, which Cunningham said was the same month he stopped attending LHS. Once district and school administration were made aware that the student was a registered sex offender — whenever that may have been — Cunningham said he could not say whether a decision was made about whether the student would continue to be enrolled in regular classes at LHS.
“To the extent that we might have had conversations around his status as a student, that would all be confidential because it would be a student matter,” he said.
Potential policy changes
The Lawrence district has about 5,700 students who attend its six secondary schools; however, that does not mean that district staff would have to check the names of all those students against the online database in order to identify registered offenders.
On the KBI website, it is possible to create a “community notification” for certain addresses. If such a notification were created using the addresses of the district’s six secondary schools, an email notification would be sent when anyone was registered within a certain radius of the school. Such a notification would certainly include an offender who was required to register a school address — such as the student in question — and would narrow the list from hundreds to dozens.
KBI spokesman Mark Malick confirmed that creating a community notification would cause a notification to be sent within five days of the receipt of an addition or update to an offender’s registry information. A Journal-World search of the registry for the six secondary school addresses did not indicate additional registered offenders who are students in the district at this time.
If the Lawrence school district were to create a policy regarding checking the registry or how to handle registered offenders who enroll, it would first be discussed in the school board’s policy advisory committee. The committee then makes a recommendation to the board, which makes the ultimate decision.
Kimball said she thinks the board policy committee needs to have “a deeper policy discussion” about the topic. Though she said she didn’t think there were necessarily negatives to checking the registry, Kimball said the district would have to determine logistical details, such as how often it was checked and how it would interact with the notification requirements of the School Safety and Security Act.
“Given that there’s that vehicle (the offender registry) available, then I think we have to discuss how do those two things work together, and I think there does need to be some discussion about that from a board policy perspective,” Kimball said. “…(The act) does not place an affirmative duty on the school district to go out and try to investigate these things, so that’s an interesting question: how all of these things are meant to — or maybe unintentionally — affect each other.”
Kimball said that once the policy committee completes its recommendation regarding the discrimination and harassment policy in mid-May, she thinks considering the issue of student offenders will be the next priority.
“I do think we need to have some detailed discussions in the policy committee and have a better understanding of what’s going on before we can really make a good, solid policy recommendation,” Kimball said. “But I would anticipate that we would be doing that.”
District spokeswoman Julie Boyle echoed Kimball's sentiment Friday afternoon.
"We will take a look at whether revisions to policy and/or adjustments in current practice are needed to glean more information about any prior criminal history of students entering our schools," Boyle said via email.
One To See Change Past Posts
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On a Personal Note
As you know, many young men and women lives across the nation are being destroyed by incarceration, life-time registry and restrictive laws that do more harm than good. For those individuals, there is no second chance.
Below is a personal letter to President Obama:
* * * *
“Dear President Obama,
I truly agree with your sentiments that individuals, such as ex-felons, should be able to receive a second chance at life. Since we all know that one can veer off that path of life and travel along rough, rocky terrain, sometimes running off and ending up in some ditch. We all have made our fill of mistakes and sometimes those held a costly consequence that changed life forever. So we lived through it, trying harder to make things right with family, friends and those around us, but what about those who aren’t able to make things right even if they tried…because they’re labeled as too dirty, a leper, a person who is rejected from society and home.
But what if they’re a seventeen year old and had sex with a fifteen year old, consensual at that? Or they’re a teen that had gotten so enraged after a breakup that he sent out naked pictures of his girlfriend on his cell phone or email? Or an individual urinates where someone just happens to see them?
All are wrong and a travesty but do they deserve the life of no second chance with a registry that ends all. They are labeled, no jobs, no where to live…they have been deemed a menace to society, a plague. These certain circumstances, and many other situations similar to these, I believe still deserve a second change.
Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution
Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
After my son’s early release and two years of prison, I thought I had handled that fact graciously knowing after serving his time he would be able to get that fresh start, that second chance. He was an exemplary inmate, GED, college courses and vocational classes. Little did I know that a second chance on the outside was the farthest from the truth? He now struggles and lives in a trailer park sharing a trailer with another and surrounded by others in the same rocking boat, one to float endlessly in shark infested waters. I see him little because of probation requirements (he couldn’t live with us because we were 800 feet near a school). My family is afraid of what would happen to them if he lived with them…vigilantism. My son has no other place to stay since others condemn him of his crime that is screamed from the highest rooftop. Sex offender, sex offender!
Not all sex offenders are pedophiles or predators but some are simply young kids that make one stupid and rash decision that eventually changes everything, and they have no idea what they’ve done until their life is never their own. Exactly, where is that second chance for those sex-offenders who are lumped together with pedophiles and predators? Now, it makes me sick to think of my son’s future and many like him that are on the registry and many with no second chance…ever. I am asking you as a mother and as another concerned citizen of the United States that these laws are looked at again and taken into serious consideration in what they are doing to the Constitution of the United States, not for sex offenders in general but the future rights of every citizen, before anymore are put into effect. They unjustly strip an offender of their rights and place them in a guillotine that can be easily set off by anyone and at anytime. Where is the second chance for ex-sex offenders in the present, pending and future laws?”
* * * *
What truly saddens me is the weakness and deterioration of what the sex offense issue is doing to our once, great nation. Across Europe, others are seeing the injustice and disregard of rights, but we ignore this problem and it makes me wonder where humanity is heading….
We have become a hysterical society in which our latest witch-hunt is a sex offender--no matter his/her crime.
Below is a email sent from a foreign advocate to a father of a sex offender:
* * * *
“The tragic story of your son's death is just so sad that it's difficult to explain how. It was very hard to read your letters. It seems almost unbelievable that this can take place in a democracy! From our point of view, there is no justice in this. Not in any way: not for you, your son, the former girl friend – or even the state.
It is an abusive legal system. It seems barbaric. And we are so very sorry that this takes place. That's why it's so important for us to try to neutralize the debate with this…, hopefully making some changes. ….. to show the every day life of the sex offenders, trying to show how they keep on being punished, even after served prison time…..But we will for sure tell the story of the injustice that your son has been exposed to.”
* * * *
I appreciate everyone's commitment and backing to protect everyone's civil rights, plainly as noted in the Constitution of the United States and is presupposed, giving ALL men are “life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.”