Mother of victims wants schools to know if students are sex offenders
A New Fairfield mother who said her daughters were sexually assaulted by a family friend is pushing for a law that would require the state to notify a school superintendent when a juvenile who lives in the district and will enroll in school there is a convicted sexual offender.
"We have all seen the horrible and tragic events that are unfolding too often in school settings, when children with mental health issues are not given the help and attention they need," said the woman, whose name is being withheld to protect the identity of her children. "This bill can make real, positive change by giving our school administrators critical information to keep all our kids safe."
The bill before the Judiciary Committee would require the state to begin notifying superintendents by Oct. 1, 2018. It would then require the state Commissioner of Education and the Judicial Branch to develop a model policy by Jan. 1, 2019 that would assist the juvenile sex offender in the school setting, ensure the safety and well-being of victims and dictate with whom a superintendent may share the information. The mother said the bill was introduced by her district's state senator, Michael A. McLachlan, R-Danbury, who is vice chairman of the Judiciary Committee.
The mother said the 14-year-old who molested her daughters was arrested after one of her children saw him assaulting another child and decided to come forward. One of her daughters was intimidated when she saw the boy in the hallway and lunchroom at school and said she was harassed in school by the boy's sister. The parents sued the New Fairfield school district in U.S. District Court for failing to protect their daughter. The case was resolved prior to trial. The mother said she couldn't discuss the settlement but that positive changes have been made in the schools.
The boy's family moved to New Hampshire while his case was pending and he was enrolled in a kindergarten through 12th grade school where nobody knew of his alleged crime. The mother said she felt obligated to contact the new school.
"They needed to know," she said in a phone interview Wednesday. "I sent letters and spoke with police departments there. They assured me he was being monitored."
She said the boy was convicted and went to prison, but that his court records are sealed due to his age. Her daughters underwent therapy and are doing better, she said, but they "will bear the scars of these attacks for the rest of their lives."
The mother said she isn't sure how a school should respond when notified that students are sexual offenders, but suggested the information might help officials with decisions such as whether a child should be allowed to ride a bus with much younger children or participate in field trips.
State Victim Advocate Natasha M. Pierre said her office has not had a lot of similar cases, but that she supports the proposal.
"Victims are very concerned about what happens when they go back to school, because sometimes they're in the same class with the person and nobody knows what's going on," she said.
Also, Pierre said, she wants the law to include restrictions about how the name and address of the victim are used.
"The victim is not the issue here," she said. "The offender is."
Connecticut Voices for Children, a New-Haven research/advocacy group, opposes the bill because Connecticut law already requires police to notify schools when an enrolled student is arrested for violating firearms laws, sex offenses and any felony crimes, according to written testimony submitted to the Judiciary Committee.
As drafted, the group says, the bill would require the state to start providing schools with confidential information three months before guidelines are in place as to who may receive the information and how it would be used.
Also, said Karen Siegel, a policy fellow with Connecticut Voices For children, the proposal does not contain a lot of safeguards for protecting the confidentiality of the youth. The group last year opposed a bill that would have created a registry for juvenile offenders and has similar concerns about the current proposal.
Siegel said that in general, there are good success rates for juveniles with behavioral health issues or involvement in the justice system. Research has shown that the more the person is stigmatized, their risk of reoffending increases, she said.
"If you publicize this information it makes it much harder for these kinds of positive futures," she said.