Amy Lux had settled into her seat in the second row in the auditorium at Kingman High School when she noticed a registered sex offender in the audience.
“I looked over and saw him in the next section,” she said. “He was sitting there with his girlfriend.”
As the wife of a police captain and mother of a 12-year-old, Lux said she pays attention to the registered offenders in Kingman. She said she never expected to see one at a middle school concert.
“I was incensed,” she said. “I stewed the whole time.”
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She said she grew more agitated when she started asking how an offender could get into the concert.
“He had every right to be there, even though he was not a parent of one of the children,” she said. “There’s nothing that prohibits a registered offender from being on school property.”
She said the offender, who has a child pornography conviction, was taking pictures of children at the concert.
Since attending that concert in May, Lux has since been asking the Kingman-Norwich School Board to adopt a policy that would bar sex offenders from coming onto school grounds. She said she’s also contacted a few state legislators to see if there’s any interest in adopting a state law dealing with the issue.
Lux has learned that many states have adopted laws that prevent sex offenders from living near schools, but there are few laws that restrict the offenders from going onto school property. Although Kansas doesn’t restrict where registered offenders can live, she said, offenders who are on probation or parole often are ordered to stay away from schools by their probation or parole officers.
But she said only four of the 15 registered offenders in Kingman County are on parole. The offender at the high school is not one of the four.
“So we have 11 of them who answer to no one,” she said.
By comparison, there were 1,080 registered offenders living in Sedgwick County as of Friday.
A spokeswoman for the National School Boards Association in Alexandria, Va., said her organization doesn’t track laws and policies dealing with sex offenders and schools.
KBI deputy director Kyle Smith said Kansas has no residency law for offenders, and he said he knows of no Kansas school districts that ban offenders from school buildings. Offender residency laws that place buffers around schools have declined in popularity in recent years, Smith said, as evidence has shown that they tend to drive offenders underground and make them more likely to re-offend.
Lux said she understands the shortcomings of buffer laws, but she said she doesn’t understand why offenders can’t simply be ordered to stay off school grounds.
“School property is just kind of a no-brainer to me,” she said.
The Wichita school district has a policy that deals with cases where the parent or guardian of a student is a registered offender. In such cases, principals are asked to review the offender’s parole or probation papers, and the district’s security office is asked to investigate the offender’s background. After reviewing that information and considering the offender’s behavior at school, the policy says, a principal may issue a “ban letter” that prohibits the offender from coming onto school property.
District spokeswoman Susan Arensman said three such letters have been written under the policy in the past five years.
Under the plan suggested by Lux, Kingman schools would send similar ban letters to all registered offenders living in the district. An offender who ignores the letter and comes onto school property could be arrested for trespassing. She said offenders with students in district schools could be exempted from the policy on a case-by-case basis.
Kingman-Norwich superintendent Bob Diepenbrock said his school board has made no decision on Lux’s proposal. He said some board members have questioned the need for a new policy.
“One question is whether we already have laws in place that we can use,” he said.
The board last week consulted with Donna Whiteman, a lawyer for the Association of School Boards. Whiteman said she didn’t take a stand on Lux’s proposal, but she said there were drawbacks to enacting such a policy.
First, she said, the registered offender list shouldn’t be seen as the end-all list of potentially dangerous residents. Some sex offenders, particularly those who go through juvenile court, may be able to avoid the registered offender list through plea bargains.
And if you ban registered offenders from all school activities, she said, you might have to check the identification of everyone attending a football or basketball game.
“You don’t want to create a situation where you’ve adopted a policy that you don’t have the resources to implement,” she said.
Lux has drawn the support of two longtime victims-rights advocates. Gene and Peggy Schmidt of Leawood, who pushed for the passage of Kansas’ sexual predator law after their daughter was murdered by a paroled rapist in 1993, think her idea is a good one.
“There is currently no law in Kansas and no policy that prevents a registered sex offender from being on school property,” he wrote in a letter to the Kingman-Norwich School Board. “It seems so ironic that students must have a written pass to go to the bathroom, but registered sex offenders are allowed to attend school events, photograph children, and even live and operate a business across the street from an elementary school.”
He said in an interview that he hopes Lux succeeds.
“It’s a bit of an uphill battle, but I really admire Amy for taking a stab at it,” he said.