Investigator: Do juvenile sex offenders attend your school?

2:47 PM, May 19, 2011   |    comments
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NORTHEAST OHIO -- More than 130 juvenile sex offenders live in Cuyahoga County, but chances are that students, parents and even administrators would not know if the offenders attend their school, a Channel 3 News investigation found.

Even if the schools do know about it, half of the 10 school districts that the Investigator Tom Meyer spoke with said they didn't have a policy on how to deal with juvenile sex offenders as students.

Those include Bedford, Berea, Independence, South Euclid-Lyndhurst and Solon.

"I would want them to let the parents know because I wouldn't send my kids there," said parent Kimberly Lloyd. "There would be no way."

Several district officials told Channel 3 News that they are not permitted to tell students or parents that a juvenile sex offender is enrolled because the offender's file is confidential.

But that's not the case, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

A spokesman said that schools can release the information if administrators believe a significant safety threat exists.

"The only thing worse than having a policy and not following it is not having a policy at all," said Carmen Naso, who prosecuted juveniles at the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's Office and is currently a law professor at Case Western Reserve University.

"When you have a policy, at least you are taking some steps to minimize the potential risk of harm to the student body and to the public," Naso said.

Those districts with policies include Parma and Westlake. Officials there said they would not hesitate to contact parents and students about a juvenile sex offender who is enrolled as a student.

Meanwhile, administrators at Cleveland Heights-University Heights, Maple Heights and Shaker Heights said the district would notify staff only. They would not notify students or parents.

Cleveland and Garfield Heights school district officials did not return repeated calls for comment.

"If there's a sex offender in the neighborhood, they notify you," said parent Tyrone Dunlap. "And more so the schools should. It should be a top priority."

Juvenile Court records show that 131 underage sex offenders live in 25 cities in Cuyahoga County. Cleveland has the most with 78, followed Maple Heights and Garfield Heights with six each.

Five sex offenders come from Parma and four come from Cleveland Heights.

But state law only requires schools to be notified if the student is classified as a Tier III sexual predator - the most dangerous. Plus, sex offenders under 14 can't be registered.

Naso says those under 14 account for about half of the juvenile sex offender.

"Very infrequently is a child locked up through all these proceedings," he said.

Parma Superintendent Jeffrey Graham said it is a Catch-22 for districts on whether to notify students and parents if they know a juvenile sex offender attends a school.

"On the one hand, you have the rights of the student -- we're talking about children who made some horrible decisions," Graham said. "On the other hand, you're talking about the safety and security of others. And that's tough, a tough thing to balance."

But one woman who was drugged and raped by two men said that all sex offenders should be identified - even students.

"If they're starting out that young, it's just a warning sign of what kind of person they're going to be throughout life," she said.


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