DENVER – Every morning when the school bell rings, kids flood into classrooms thinking about the homework assignment they still need to complete or the test they have to ace.
It’s not about the student sitting next to them, who may be a registered sex offender.
FOX31 Denver asked the state of Colorado how many juveniles were on the state’s sex offender list.
We were told the Colorado Bureau of Investigation doesn’t keep track of those numbers, so we went through hundreds of records and found a little more than 300 offenders, 17 and younger, who were required to register under state law.
The registered teenage sex offenders have been convicted of crimes like rape, incest and sexual assault; the youngest on the list, five 12-year-olds.
“Here are kids that commit offenses that fall under the sexual offense category of our criminal justice system,” said George Brauchler, Arapahoe County District Attorney. “They’re not only permitted to go to school, in many cases they are encouraged to return to school as part of the rehabilitation process.”
FOX31 Investigative Reporter Tak Landrock asked 10 metro area school districts how many sex offenders attend classes in those districts. The highest number was in the Adams 12 Five Star School District with 43 in the last school year (2012-2013), followed by Jefferson County schools with 25 and Cherry Creek with 23.
Brauchler said under the law, a juvenile convicted of any crime is allowed a public education, whether it is in the classroom, online study or in-home study. Again, according to Brauchler, the goals are to give the offender as normal of a life and to rehabilitate the juvenile.
“The juvenile justice system that we have established in Colorado is not intended to be punitive, in fact, punishment is really the last resort,” said Brauchler.
When a student is accused or convicted of a serious sex crime, the district attorney’s office must notify the district where the child attends school and then the district puts that student on a safety plan.
“They’re followed by an administrator in the school district; their behavior is closely monitored,” said John McDonald, Executive Director of Security in Jefferson County Schools.
The safety plan is a set of guidelines for administrators and the student to follow. For example, students on the plan might be prohibited from going near a daycare center located in the school, some must use a private restroom or they might not be able to attend physical education classes.
“It is case specific; it is student specific. Safety plans are developed based on what the student’s issues are and what we need to be concerned about,” said McDonald.
The information about the student offender is shared with principals, school resource officers and guidance counselors. Sometimes teachers are alerted but that is on rare occasions.
School districts are prohibited from telling parents and other students of the criminal offense of a student McDonald told FOX31 Denver.
“I think we have to be very careful about what information we share and there are so many variations and each case is so different,” McDonald said.
If parents want to know the names and addresses of juvenile sex offenders they must pay for the information through the Colorado Bureau of Investigation.
The information on minors is not published online. You can also go to your local police department to get a list, but neither list will tell you the schools the offender attends.
“It’s not surprising that 12-, 13- and 14-year-olds are engaging in any sexual activity,” said Jen Bavender, a mom who has six kids in Douglas County Schools.
FOX31 Denver put together a panel of three moms to discuss juvenile sex offenders in the classroom. All had no idea schools would allow a sex offender in the classroom.
“As a parent, do you think you have the right to know who those students are?” asked FOX31 Investigative Reporter Tak Landrock. “That’s a good question Tak, I will have to get back with you on that one,” said Bavender.
After a short discussion, two of the moms, Jennifer Nackerud and Bavender, decided they didn’t want to know which students were registered sex offenders.
“I feel like I have just morally, ethically and legal obligation to protect a child, where I don’t an adult,” said Nackerud.”
Mother Michelle Media felt she should know. “Personally, I think the greater safety of protecting all students is greater than protecting one.”
“If this was a sex offender, whose first crime was as a 22-year-old in college, that’s much different than a 13-year-old who might have been acting out on something he absolutely had no idea of what he was doing,” said Bavender.
While many parents will differ on who should know, all agree it’s a discussion they need to have with their children. “I never thought about telling my kids, ‘Wow, what if another student does this to you? … [Here's] what you need to do,’” said Medina.