Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Galveston schools making rules for sex offenders

School district adapting sex offender policy

By Chris Paschenko
The Daily News
Published January 6, 2008

HITCHCOCK — A new law passed recently by state legislators requires more stringent safety procedures at schools, including having a written policy on how to allow sex offenders access.

Michael Bergman, superintendent of the Hitchcock Independent School District, said he is amending the school’s policy that will primarily affect registered sex offenders who are parents of schoolchildren.

“It’s not an issue of sex offenders, but when a sex offender has children in the district and how we will accommodate them,” Bergman said. “I’m in the process of writing that, and we’re going to share that with principals and have it ready for the board to review in February.”

Bergman said he wants principals to give their thoughts on the matter before it’s placed on the school board’s agenda for discussion.

Bergman said the district has a policy now but doesn’t have a procedure in place, which will likely require someone, such as faculty or an administrator, to escort sex offenders on campuses.

When asked whether sex offenders were in the past allowed unescorted in schools, Bergman said he came to Hitchcock only six months ago from the Brazos school district, and he couldn’t remember such an occasion at Hitchcock.

“I hate to speculate, but my feeling is that sex offenders were not accommodated heretofore,” Bergman said. “They were just refused access to campus for any reason, but the Legislature has indicated there are parameters, especially when parents are going to have to be accommodated.”

The new law requires fingerprinting and background checks for all employees and contractors, and Bergman said administrators would run checks on visitors to see if they are registered sex offenders. He said the policy would likely pertain strictly to school hours, between 8 a.m. and 3:30 p.m., and wouldn’t affect sporting events.

Pat Turner, who has been a school board member for 15 years, recalled three occasions where parents who are sex offenders asked for permission to be on campus, including one man less than a year ago who wasn’t allowed to chaperone elementary students on an off-campus field trip.

“He was going to be a guardian,” Turner said. “But another parent saw this guy and reported it to the principal.”

The man offended when he was a minor, Turner said, and hadn’t “done anything since,” she said.“

(In) another case, a guy was trying to see his nephew in the nursery, but they didn’t let him in there,” she said.

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