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Sex-offender parents targeted

Granite calls for close monitoring at schools

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Sex-offender parents can no longer just "show up" under a draft policy the Granite Board of Education preliminarily approved Tuesday.

Rather, parents on the Utah Sex Offender Registry would have to make appointments before coming to school. And their attendance at extracurricular activities would be regulated by the principal.

"We aren't telling people they can't come to school," said Martin Bates, attorney and assistant to the Granite superintendent. "What we're trying to do with the policy is to balance a parent's ability to participate meaningfully in their child's education against minimizing access to other people's children."

The board unanimously approved the proposal, which Bates said codifies some existing practice, on the first of three readings.

"I think it is well done," president Patricia Sandstrom said.

The policy would apply only to parents — not everyone on the registry. So, conceivably, other registered sex offenders could come and go to football games or track meets without restriction. It also does not encompass juvenile sex offenders — the subject of a proposed crackdown bill in Texas; Bates says they are educated in alternative settings in Utah.

"This policy is dealing with foreseeable issues," Bates said. "And it's reasonable and foreseeable ... (that sex offenders) want to participate in their child's education, and we are supportive of that. However, we want to regulate to some degree their access to other people's children."

Utah Department of Corrections officials estimate about 200 convicted sex offenders live within 1,000 feet of a school in Salt Lake County alone.

More than half of the crimes that can land a person on the sex offender registry pertain to children, Bates said.

But about 40 percent of those on the registry are not pedophiles, Utah Department of Corrections spokesman Jack Ford said.

The issue is hot nationally. And five bill requests are listed on the Utah Legislature's Web site.

Rep. Greg Hughes, R-Draper, for instance, earlier this fall indicated he wants to restrict registered sex offenders from living within a 500-foot "buffer zone" of schools, parks and other areas.

Twelve states have similar laws. And the Fargo, N.D., school board earlier this month banned adult sex offenders from school property altogether, The Associated Press reported.

Yet such actions have brought constitutional questions.

Iowa's law, which required a 1,000-foot buffer zone, was declared unconstitutional, a sex offender supervisor told the Utah Legislature's Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Interim Committee in September.

Granite's proposal, patterned after Davis District procedures, seeks to reduce risks, Bates said. People lately have phoned a handful of principals to tell them parents at their schools are registered sex offenders. Principals have asked what to do about that.

The proposed policy tells principals to make "reasonable efforts" to let parent sex offenders participate in their children's education, and states the sex offender registry is not to be publicized or used to harass offenders or their families.

That said, "The Board of Education finds that conviction of a sexual offense against a child is incompatible with unfettered access to school property and schoolchildren, regardless of whether sentences have been served or probations have ended," the proposal states.

The proposal would bar convicted sex offenders from volunteering in schools, even if supervised.

State law requires volunteers with significant, unsupervised access to children to be fingerprinted, and could be barred from volunteering depending on crimes committed.

The proposal also would require principals to send parents who are registered sex offenders a letter outlining restrictions, including that the sex offenders make appointments with the principal before coming to school and remain within eyesight of school officials at all times.

Everyone is supposed to check in at the office when they come to a public school, so that's no real change. But under the policy, a non-sex offender might be able to wander down to the kindergarten room after checking in, whereas sex offenders would be escorted.

"We're not going to put (the sex offender) or other children in that position," Bates said. "In that sense, it protects the sex offender as well."

As for regulating access at public, after-school events, Bates envisions parents would talk with principals in advance, and officials would keep an eye out for them.

Failure to comply with the proposal could result in a criminal trespass charge.

Davis school officials could not be reached late Tuesday afternoon on how the practice works there.

The Utah chapter of the ACLU did not want to give immediate comment, and the Utah Attorney General's Office did not return a phone call.


E-mail: jtcook@desnews.com