• October 25, 2014

Lake Michigan College Bans Sex Offenders of Children From Its Campuses

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.

Comments

1. johntoradze - March 04, 2010 at 11:57 am

I'll second #1.
This won't hold up, it could result in a significant judgement against the university. It is also not in society's best interest to give offenders who completed their sentences these basic choices: A. Become a career violent criminal supporting themselves with burglary, rackets, etcetera. This will enable them to become extremely dangerous. B. Become a homeless drifter. C. Perhaps eke out a living surrounded by other sex offenders.

Please note that the reason for the sex offender registry becoming public, first in California, was Polly Klass and Megan Kanka. Polly Klaas was murdered by a homeless drifter. Megan was murdered by a man sharing a rental with other former sex offenders.

The problem of sex offenders is serious. But the crimes range from simple touching to forcible rape and murder. It is the latter that most people think of usually. If one looks through the thousands of people in these public registries, one sees that most of them are not of the most dangerous variety.

2. esselan - March 04, 2010 at 12:10 pm

Don't colleges already require students to disclose any felony convictions and make case by case decisions anyway? Is it really necessary to go to this specific length.

3. rick1952 - March 04, 2010 at 01:07 pm

This is a difficult issue. I share #2's concerns and see multiple issues:
1 - At what point has a person convicted of a sexual offense "paid his/her debt to society"?
2 - How do we as a society, and colleges would fit into this category, determine who is a sexual predator and therefore cannot be trusted?
3 - How do colleges manage the expectation (realistic or not) for safety that seems to be set at a higher threshold than for other institutions in society?
4 - How can colleges protect themselves from endless litigation that would result from a sexual assault committed by an ex-convict sex offender who was admitted and allowed to enroll at the College?

I have no easy answers for these questions and I doubt that there are any if we set fairness as one of our goals in dealing with these questions. The lack of fairness in the LMC policy may make it untenable legally but even correcting for the unfairness of the policy will not address the issues I see.

4. tempinmidwest - March 05, 2010 at 10:59 am

I agree this is definitely a difficult issue because enrolling into college especially after serving your time is an opportunity to do better. Enrollment or employment was a great choice for those students and to be suspended without warning was extreme. I do have children but it my personal responsibility to make sure they are safe in EVERY situation. When my children decide to do dual enrollment when in high school they will receive the same lecture they received when they became a latch-key kid.
I have no legal background but I would feel better if this situation occured in a "normal society" because here in Benton Harbor, and St. Joseph, Michigan the society is NOT normal. They still have a segregated society due to race so any other lifestyle (gay, lesbian, mixed race, etc) is going to always be out of the window. I think the other events that were going on in the campus recently actually led up to the student dismal. No one would EVER admit that.
I pray because this society needs prayer that the decision the school makes opens the window for creative means to assist the ones who will lose out on an opportunity to learn at an affordable price. For example, correspondence courses MORE on-line learning classes would be helpful because otherwise the community where the "community's college" is placed will continue to spiral downward and it is sad.

5. jesor - March 10, 2010 at 03:11 pm

The other question not addressed, although a bit technical, is whether or not the community colleges, as state institutions can in effect impose an additional sentence of prohibition from education upon someone who has already served the sentence imposed upon them by the court. My legal knowledge is getting a bit dated, but I don't know that this question has been entirely resolved yet.

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