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As a school board member, you may be faced with questions about the presence of sex offenders on school property. You may receive a phone call from a parent saying, “I’ve heard that the father of one of the students in my daughter’s first-grade class is a convicted sex offender. I don’t know the details, but other parents are reporting to me that the conviction arises from a sexual relationship that he had with a teenage girl a few years ago. Would you want a sex offender around your kid? If this guy really is a convicted sex offender, can we ban him from school property?”

Unfortunately, there is not a simple “yes” or “no” answer to that question. Factors include, but are not limited to, whether the person in question is actually a registered sex offender, the offender’s risk classification and whether the offender has been released on parole or is currently on probation or conditional discharge from custody or incarceration.

The law permits a sex offender who is a parent or guardian and not currently on parole, probation or conditional discharge to attend his or her child’s school event. This includes Level 1, 2 and 3 offenders (for definitions, see sidebar below). Offenders who are off parole may also visit schools to vote and be present for certain other reasons.

Here are some questions and answers:

Is a school district required to distribute sex offender notifications?
While state law requires law enforcement to inform school districts about registered sex offenders living in the district, there is no legal requirement for the district to distribute sex offender notifications to residents.

Notably, a bill was passed by the New York State Senate in 2013 that would have required school districts, upon notification from law enforcement agencies, to notify residents of sex offenders living in the district. However, this bill was not passed by the Assembly.

What type of information may a school district distribute in its sex offender notifications?
If a school district chooses to notify residents about a sex offender living in the community, it is authorized by law to release the name of the offender and provide some form of information about where the individual resides. For Level 1 offenders, considered to be at the lowest risk of committing another offense, only the person’s zip code may be released. The exact street address of Level 2 and Level 3 offenders may be released.

Regardless of whether the offender is classified as Level 1, Level 2 and Level 3, districts may release:

  • Any aliases used by the offender.
  • A photograph and description of the offender.
  • Background information including the sex offender’s crime of conviction, mode of operation, type of victim targeted.
  • The name and address of any institution of higher education at which the sex offender is enrolled, attends, is employed or resides.
  • A description of any special conditions imposed on the offender.

How should a school district distribute sex offender notifications?
Each school district may exercise its discretion regarding the best way to distribute sex offender notifications to the community. Many districts choose to post sex offender notifications on the district’s website because it is one of the fastest, most effective and cost efficient methods of distributing this information. The district may wish to provide a link to the state registry (www.criminaljustice.ny.gov/nsor), which is searchable. By law, only Level 2 and Level 3 sex offenders are listed on the public directory.

May a school district ban a sex offender from attending school district events?
Yes, a school district can ban some sex offenders from school grounds. A school district can prohibit Level 1 or Level 2 sex offenders from being on school property while the offender is released on parole or is placed on probation or conditional discharge if the sex offender was convicted of a sex offense where the victim was under the age of 18 at the time of the offense. A school district can also prohibit any person designated as a Level 3 sex offender from being on school property, regardless of the victim’s age, while that offender is released on parole or is placed on probation or conditional discharge.

However, if a sex offender falls into one of the categories mentioned above, and such offender is a registered student of the school, event participant, employee, or has a family member enrolled in the school, the offender may enter school grounds for a limited purpose if the offender has the written authorization of his probation officer or the court and the written authorization of the superintendent of schools. A superintendent is not required to grant permission, and the school may supervise the offender while the offender is on school property.

What about a sex offender who is no longer on parole, probation or conditional discharge?
A registered Level 2 or Level 3 sex offender who is no longer on parole, probation or conditional discharge, would be guilty of criminal trespass in the second degree if he entered or remained on school grounds knowing that the victim of his offense attends or formerly attended that school.  Exceptions to this rule apply if the sex offender is: a lawfully registered student at the school; a lawful student participant in a school-sponsored event; the parent or guardian of a lawfully registered student at the school and he enters the school to attend his child’s event or activity; or if the school is the sex offender’s designated polling place and he enters strictly to vote or for a limited purpose authorized by the superintendent.  

How do the rules apply when the sex offender is a parent or guardian of a student?
A sex offender who is the parent or guardian of a student may attend his or her child’s school functions as follows:

  • A Level 1, 2 or 3 sex offender who is a parent or guardian and not currently on parole, probation or conditional discharge can attend his or her child’s school event.
  • A Level 1 sex offender who is a parent or guardian and is currently on parole, probation or conditional discharge cannot attend if his victim was under the age of 18 (unless he has written authorization from his probation officer or the court and the school superintendent).
  • A Level 2 sex offender who is a parent or guardian and is currently on parole, probation or conditional discharge cannot attend if his victim was under the age of 18 (unless he has written authorization from his probation officer or the court and the school superintendent).
  • A Level 3 sex offender who is a parent or guardian and is currently on parole, probation or conditional discharge cannot attend regardless of the victim’s age (unless he has written authorization from his probation officer or the court and the school superintendent).

Please be aware that this article refers only to New York State laws. Ask your school attorney about local municipal laws for any additional restrictions and whether any Family Court orders apply to specific individuals.

Members of the New York State Association of School Attorneys represent school boards and school districts. This article was written by Candace J. Gomez  of Lamb & Barnosky, LLP.

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