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Schools should keep close tabs on young sex offenders

Post by Kim Bradford on June 6, 2010 at 6:17 pm with No Comments »
June 5, 2010 12:19 pm

This editorial will appear in Monday’s print edition.

Jose Reyes, who until last month was a student at Roosevelt High School in Seattle, has a rap sheet that should raise the hairs on any school administrator’s neck.

The 18-year-old has a history of preying on young girls. He was spotted masturbating in the Seattle Public Library at age 13. By the time he was 15, he was luring elementary-age girls from public parks and a library with promises of children’s collectible trading cards.

He fondled one of the girls in a parking lot. He was later convicted of indecent liberties with force and classified a Level II sex offender.

The conditions of Reyes’ probation included remaining in school, which he did. Districts can’t bar sex offenders from enrolling; a couple hundred attend public schools in Washington.

Police apparently told Roosevelt officials that Reyes was a sex offender, but no one at the school passed that information along to the district so that a safety plan could be developed and extra monitoring provided.

This spring, Reyes started hanging around a 14-year-old developmentally delayed classmate. His interest in the girl, which was apparently known to fellow students if not school staffers, should have set off alarms.

If it did, there’s no indication those warnings were heeded. On May 18, Reyes allegedly persuaded the girl to go into a school bathroom with him. There, police say, he sexually assaulted her, despite her pleas to stop.

Reyes is now charged with third-degree rape. His arrest comes on the heels of a KIRO News report that identified 60 Puget Sound-area schools where sex offenders attend.

Of the region’s school districts surveyed by the state, Tacoma had enrolled the most sex offenders: 20, including several with convictions for first-degree child rape. Tacoma school officials, in light of the KIRO report, are now reviewing whether they need to institute additional measures.

Currently, Tacoma administrators develop customized plans for each student, often in conjunction with their parents, based on the specific factors of his or her case. That protocol is similar to Seattle’s, and appears to work well when it’s used.

Districts should also ensure that they are making the most effective use of their best watchdogs: teachers.

While principals are prohibited by law from broadcasting the arrival of a sex offender to students and parents, they can tell teachers and staff. They should share that information as liberally as possible.

Society benefits when sex offenders can be successfully reintegrated into a school environment under close supervision. Education is one of the most powerful rehabilitation tools available. But as much as schools have a duty to teach, they also have a dual obligation to ensure a safe learning environment for all students.

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