Lake Michigan College Bans Sex Offenders of Children From Its Campuses

March 03, 2010

A new rule at Lake Michigan College prohibits anyone registered as a sex offender of children from enrolling in courses on its campuses. Such a rule might not withstand legal scrutiny, however, says a legal consultant for colleges.

The four-campus community college in southwestern Michigan created the rule after a sex offender of children identified himself as such during course registration in October. The college decided not to let that student register and to suspend any other students who had been convicted of sex crimes against children.

Using a public sex-offender registry, the college identified three of its current students as such offenders and suspended them. The rule, which took effect in February, allows those offenders to take classes online but prohibits them from attending classes on the college's campuses.

Laura Kraklau, director of marketing services at Lake Michigan, said the college thought the rule was necessary because two of the campuses have day-care centers, and, more important, because children frequently visit the campus for activities, such as competing in a Science Olympiad or taking a field trip to see a play.

Two of the three students who were suspended are appealing their suspension through an internal student-appeal process, Ms. Kraklau said.

The potential problem with the rule, said Gary M. Pavela, a legal consultant to colleges, is that it does not consider such sex offenders on a case-by-case basis. Mr. Pavela said that blanket policies against individuals with criminal records could go against the state's public policy for rehabilitation.

"The law is clear that there must be individual assessment," Mr. Pavela said. "I think there is a legitimate legal question here worthy of challenge."

Mr. Pavela said it might be riskier to have some sex offenders of children on campuses than others. For instance, somebody who was convicted 20 years ago, underwent rehabilitation, and has no restriction from a parole officer may be less of a threat than someone whom a judge has ordered not to be in contact with children.

The federal Campus Sex Crimes Prevention Act, which went into effect in 2002, stopped well short of banning sex offenders from campuses. Rather, it requires states to track whether sex offenders are enrolled, employed, or volunteering at a college—and to inform campus officials of that fact. Colleges must also tell students and faculty and staff members where they can obtain information on their state's registered sex offenders.