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Wed September 9, 2009
New CISD sex offender policy draws criticism
By Scott Harvey
Commerce – A new Commerce ISD policy allowing sex offenders to attend school sponsored events their child is participating in has drawn some criticism.
A CISD mother says the policy needs to be more structured and more attention needs to be paid to the sex offender attending the event. She wants to know why the district is "bending over backwards" to accommodate these offenders.
According to Superintendent Blake Cooper, the policy was done with the child in mind so their parent/guardian could be present to support them.
Of the ten registered sex offenders in Commerce, two are parents/guardians of CISD students.
The mother questioned why state law wouldn't restrict sex offenders from being on campus. It is city law and school district policy that restrict where a sex offender can be. Currently, the City of Commerce has no sex offender policy in effect, as it is being challenged in a lawsuit dating back to early 2008.
Cooper contends the new policy is actually more restrictive than before and "closed loopholes." Previous language indicated a sex offender was not allowed on "district property," According to Cooper, because the district uses A&M-Commerce's Memorial Stadium for sporting events, offenders could contend they were not on "district property." He says this policy closes the potential loophole.
The mother was also concerned with how parents were being notified which, according to Cooper, is in the media. All registered sex offenders received a notice of the policy change by mail.
Another topic addressed the concern of other towns/school districts and how parents would be notified and students would be protected.
According to Cooper, sex offenders by law are required to follow the guidelines of the school district's property which they are on. He did note, however, based on the number of people attending those events from outside the district, it would be hard to control.
In a recent letter to a district personnel Cooper wrote the following:
"Even though CISD has a policy, be aware that when we visit other campuses our "parents" can attend those events without penalty. At this time of the approximately 1100 school districts in the State of Texas, over 900 districts do not have any policy regarding sex offenders attending "school sponsored events."
Under the policy, a sex offender who is the parent/guardian of a CISD student is required to submit an event request form at least 24 hours in advance. Cooper also has the authority to accept or deny any request. If approved, the individual must check in and out with the district employee on duty at that event.
The CISD mother felt during a recent JV football game not enough supervision was given to the sex offender in attendance.
"Who's keeping an eye on him?"
She also feels the new policy opens the district up for a lawsuit if a student were to become a victim of an offender allowed to attend.
"I pay enough school taxes; I don't want to be paying for a lawsuit for the next 20 years."
She questioned why the policy was put in place.
"It doesn't have anything to do with this person being a prominent business person? Or that he perhaps donates money to the school? I understand wanting to support the kids, but this is one kid. Sometimes when people make horrible decisions their kids have to pay for it."
She suggested a possible compromise if the individual had an escort, and/or was required to sit in a specific section.
Another CISD parent felt the new policy was absurd and inexcusable. She referenced a recurring situation where she says her son cannot leave school on his bike until all the cars have left due to safety concerns.
"If they're so concerned about the safety of these kids, why on earth would they let convicted sex criminals who molest children anywhere near our kids. It's insane."
Superintendent Cooper wanted to reaffirm there is no change in the district's policy regarding offenders visiting school campuses, volunteering, or other related issues. This policy only allows these individuals to attend events their child is participating in, if in fact they receive approval from the superintendent.
Cooper contends the district does not want to sacrifice the safety of its children, but believes that it is better to know where the "parent offenders" are, rather than not know at all.