July 26, 2015

Sex offenders who have kids put schools in awkward spot

This reporter ought to check story facts before publishing them. Mary Devoy IS NOT "Executive Director o Reform Sex Offender Laws of Virginia" a defunct organization. Are other facts correct?
7-26-15 Virginia:

Bayside Middle School administrators banned the father of a student this past school year after learning he had pleaded guilty a decade earlier to having sex with a 14-year-old when he was 21.

State law prohibits violent sex offenders - the father's crime fits the definition - from going on school property without a court order. Even then, the law gives school officials the final say.

The father obtained his court order. He then appealed up the school system's channels, and it eventually signed off on letting him enter the school with restrictions.

His isn't a unique case. Among the division's 82 schools, principals ban about four sex-offender parents per year, usually after other parents alert school officials, Deputy City Attorney Kamala Lannetti said.

A handful of those, like this father, are allowed back on campus with restrictions based on the nature of their crimes, she said. For example, he is not allowed to chaperone field trips or eat lunch with his children.

Because sex-offender bans come at the discretion of individual schools, division officials said they couldn't provide exact figures on bans and appeals.

Still, the process reveals the often tricky balance divisions must strike between parental rights and public safety.

"Ultimately, we're looking to do what's best for the students," said Shirann Lewis, director of elementary schools, one of three division officials who review appeals.

The court order offenders have to obtain removes any sentencing restrictions preventing them from being on school property. Once that happens, the division reviews the case and makes a decision on whether to overturn the ban. Other South Hampton Roads divisions have similar policies.

Dropping the ban means creating terms that allow the parents to do things like attend events, participate in parent-teacher conferences and pick up their children from school; lifting it also entails making sure they're not left alone with other students, officials said.

That was part of what got the Bayside parent, now a father of four, in trouble in November 2004. To avoid identifying his children, The Pilot is not naming him.

He met a 14-year-old cheerleader while he was coaching youth football, according to court records. He took the victim to a motel, prosecutors said.

The parent later pleaded guilty to felony counts of carnal knowledge of a child between the ages of 13 and 15, and he was sentenced to five years in prison.

"Given the seriousness of your conviction and the potential threat you pose to students, you are prohibited from entering all Virginia Beach City Public School properties," Principal Paula Johnson wrote in her Nov. 13 ban letter.

The father's argument to school officials: His crime happened a long time ago, and he wanted to be a responsible father, said his attorney, Kevin Martingayle.

"Everyone wants to focus on the worst-case scenario, and what they don't stop to think about is whether there are unintended consequences of keeping him away from his kids," Martingayle said.

While the Bayside father was allowed on school property, many people have reservations about such a decision. State lawmakers recently made the appeals process trickier.

As of July 1, state law requires that offenders trying to gain access to schools buy an advertisement in a local newspaper alerting the public that they plan to petition the court. Also, members of the public now may submit testimony.

Some say the law will reduce the number of parents petitioning the court to regain access.

"How many parents are going to be willing to humiliate their children by publicizing their situation in the newspaper?" asked Mary Devoy, executive director of Reform Sex Offender Laws of Virginia.

The law differs slightly from obstacles lawmakers typically throw at sex offenders, said Wesley Jennings, an associate professor of criminology at the University of South Florida.

"It looks to me like something designed to create moral panic and grossly inflate people's concerns," he said.

Sex offenders in the category of the Bayside parent typically experience among the lowest rates of recidivism, perhaps as low as 5 percent, said Jason Rydberg, associate professor of criminology and justice studies at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell.

That is part of what schools and courts must consider when deciding whether to allow a sex offender onto school property, he said.

"The major misconception with sex offenders is that they're all cut from the same cloth," he said, "and that just isn't the case." ..Source.. by Matt McKinney

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