News From Terre Haute, Indiana

March 7, 2009

Policy may close sex offender law gap

State law doesn’t prohibit child sex offenders from visiting schools

By Sue Loughlin

TERRE HAUTE — Indiana law prevents most registered child sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of a school, but it doesn’t prohibit them from visiting a school.

Now, the Vigo County School Corp. wants to close the gap in state law by adopting a policy that, except in limited circumstances, would prohibit registered sex offenders “whose victim was a minor” from going onto school property.

By having a policy, the district will be better able to keep schools safe and protect students, said Ray Azar, director of student services, in a recent interview.

School districts in Brown and Bartholomew counties have similar policies or procedures in place, Azar has found.

Illinois law is more strict.

In that state, it is unlawful for a child sex offender to be present in any school building or property, or loiter within 500 feet of school property, without the permission of the superintendent or school board (with some exceptions).

As school policies and local ordinances in Indiana become increasingly restrictive toward sex offenders, some people are concerned about the civil liberties of those who already have served their sentences and paid their debts to society.

If such a policy prevents a parent from being able to watch his or her child participate in a sport or other event, or attend a parent-teacher conference, “That’s outrageous,” said Ken Falk, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana.

If barriers continue to be erected for those who have served their sentence, “That makes him or her a continued prisoner for the rest of his or her life,” Falk said. “I caution government to think before they do these things and not react knee-jerk to a problem.”

Why a policy?

The school district has worked on the policy for several months and, at the School Board’s request, revisions have been made. The updated version will be presented to the board Monday night.

School officials have at times received reports that a registered child sex offender attended a school event, such as a festival or other after-school activity, Azar said. The offender might be the parent of a student or someone’s friend.

While state law does prevent registered child sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of a school, it doesn’t prohibit them from visiting a school, Azar said.

“We were advised if we wanted to make school grounds off limits, we would need to have a policy” that can be enforced, Azar said.

The proposed policy does provide some exceptions.

There are limited circumstances where a registered child sex offender “has either a right or a legitimate education need to come on school property,” according to revisions in the proposed Vigo County policy. In particular, that could apply to an offender who has a child in school.

“We don’t want to deny parents their rights,” Azar said.

The revised policy includes a procedure that must be followed before an offender can visit the school. The offender must contact the director of student services, who will develop an Individual Access and Child Protection Plan with a school administrator, before the offender can enter the school.

“They would have to make special arrangements and have them approved,” Azar said.

There also is a provision for emergency procedures involving the welfare of a child, if a child sex offender is the one who will respond to the emergency.

Vigo County isn’t the first school district to consider such a policy.

Brown County schools have had a policy in place since 2006. The policy declares that “no registered sex offender whose victim was a minor may come on any school property in Brown County,” again with some exceptions if the offender is a parent of a child in school.

In that case, a principal can modify the policy to allow the parent to drop off and pick up his/her child from school and to come onto campus to attend parent-teacher conferences.

However, the parent “may not linger on or about school property before or after dropping off his/her child; and further provided that the parent is prohibited from being in any part of the school building except the front office.”

Brown County schools superintendent David Shaffer said the school district has used the policy on a few occasions in which registered offenders want to volunteer at a school, or in one instance, an offender related to a student wanted to go on a field trip.

The district hasn’t had any problems in the instances where it has had to use the policy, he said. It has not had to contact law enforcement for assistance.

A formal policy makes it easier for school principals to carry it out, Shaffer said. If someone is unhappy about it, the principal can say he or she is enforcing school board policy.

The Brown County school policy also states, in part: “The State of Indiana has determined that perpetrators of certain sex crimes pose a continuing threat to society as a whole even after completion of their criminal sentences.”

A few years ago, Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. put in writing what it already had done procedurally. It has included a sentence in its crisis and response plan that states:

“Individuals on this [sex offender registry] list are not allowed on BCSC property without prior approval.”

“It’s a very simple statement,” said Larry Perkinson, the school district’s employee and student assistance coordinator.

If an offender has a child in school, the principal will typically send that person a letter informing the parent/offender that he/she must make an appointment and obtain prior approval to attend a student conference or for any other reason.

Legally Defensible

The Indiana School Boards Association has advised districts that it is legally defensible to have policies barring child sex offenders from schools and school functions, but they must include educationally-related exceptions, said Dave Emmert, ISBA legal counsel.

He believes a recent Indiana Appeals Court ruling “backs up what I had been saying.”

The appeals court upheld a Plainfield ordinance banning sex offenders from parks and recreation areas there. Those banned are on the state sex offender registry.

The appeals court said that while the Plainfield ban does have a punitive aspect, the ordinance did not violate guarantees to the rights of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness under the Indiana Constitution.

Because of that decision, Emmert believes school districts “certainly have much more legal support to invoke a policy.”

ACLU of Indiana is appealing to the state Supreme Court, Falk said.

While Indiana law does not prohibit child sex offenders from going into a school, schools “do have a duty of care to our students,” said Julie Slavens, also an ISBA staff attorney. For that reason, schools can restrict child sex offenders from coming into schools, she said.

“We have control over who comes in and out of our buildings, and the courts have upheld that, mostly under the duty of care to protect students,” she said.

Allowing child sex offenders in schools puts children at risk, and it creates liability risks for schools, she said.

Both she and Emmert believe that a child sex offender still has the right to attend a public school board meeting.

Minors don’t usually attend board meetings, and even if they do, there is typically enough supervision and security that the risk is very low, Slavens said.

Donald W. Hyde, who is a registered sex offender, raised that issue at the last Vigo County School Board meeting.

Hyde warned the board about denying people their civil rights and their right to free speech. If the administration building is placed off limits under the policy, then those affected individuals would be denied the right to attend public school board meetings.

“You are denying people the ability to approach you with a valid complaint,” Hyde said. “I don’t believe the Supreme Court will let you.”

The revised Vigo County policy says meetings conducted under the “open door” law are exempted from the policy. “However, the offender must inform the administrator of his/her presence upon entry so as to allow for additional supervision when minors are present,” the policy revision states.

Illinois tougher on child sex offenders

Illinois law is more stringent than Indiana law. It prohibits a child sex offender from being present in a school building or on school property, or loitering within 500 feet of a school property, without permission of the superintendent or school board. There are some exceptions for offenders who have children in school.

Also, it is unlawful for a child sex offender to live within 500 feet of a school, playground, or any facility providing programs or services exclusively directed toward people under age 18, unless the offender owned the property prior to July 7, 2000.

In Illinois, convicted child sex offenders must adhere to those residency and loitering restrictions for the rest of their lives, even if they no longer have to register as a sex offender.

“Once a child sex offender, always a child sex offender,” said Tracie Newton, who supervises the sex offender registration unit of the Illinois State Police.

The restrictions remain in place as long as the offenders live in Illinois, she said.

According to Illinois law, there are some exceptions for parents, such as a parent-teacher or special education conference. In those types of situations, schools can’t deny access, but the offenders must still seek permission first. “That’s our interpretation,” Newton said.

Because of changes in law, child sex offenders can no longer vote at their polling site if it’s at a school. They can vote absentee, Newton said.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at (812) 231-4235 or

Questions and answers about Indiana law, child sex offenders and Indiana schools:

1. What does Indiana law say as far as child sex offenders and schools with regard to residency restrictions?

IC 35-42-4-11 ( prohibits certain sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of school property, youth program centers and public parks. The offenders that fall under IC 35-42-4-11 include sexually violent predators and those convicted of:

(A) Child molesting (IC 35-42-4-3).

(B) Child exploitation (IC 35-42-4-4(b)).

(C) Child solicitation (IC 35-42-4-6).

(D) Child seduction (IC 35-42-4-7).

(E) Kidnapping (IC 35-42-3-2), if the victim is under 18 years of age and the person is not the child’s parent or guardian.

(F) Attempt to commit or conspiracy to commit an offense listed in clauses (A) through (E).

(G) An offense in another jurisdiction that is substantially similar to an offense described in clauses (A) through (F).

2. Are there loitering restrictions (i.e., any laws preventing them from visiting a school or being on school property)?

There are no registration statutes that would prohibit sex offenders from visiting schools or being on school property. There are some corporations around the state that are looking into policies that would prohibit sex offenders from being on their property. In the current legislative session, there was a bill proposed (HB 1501) that would have prohibited certain sex offenders from being on the property of a primary or secondary school.

3. How long must sex offenders register?

Offenders convicted in Indiana either register for 10 years or life.

4. Do the residency restrictions (the 1,000 feet restriction) still apply once the sex offender no longer has to register?

No, once registration ends, residency restrictions under IC 35-42-4-11 also end.

5. Does the law have any employment restrictions as far as child sex offenders working in schools?

IC 35-42-4-10 ( prohibits sexually violent predators and those individuals convicted of the following offenses from working on school property, at a youth program center or at a public park.

(A) Child molesting (IC 35-42-4-3).

(B) Child exploitation (IC 35-42-4-4(b)).

(C) Child solicitation (IC 35-42-4-6).

(D) Child seduction (IC 35-42-4-7).

(E) Kidnapping (IC 35-42-3-2), if the victim is less than eighteen (18) years of age and the person is not the child’s parent or guardian.

(F) Attempt to commit or conspiracy to commit an offense listed in clauses (A) through (E).

(G) An offense in another jurisdiction that is substantially similar to an offense described in clauses (A) through (F).

Source: Brent Myers, director, registration and victim services, Indiana Department of Correction