Sex offenders who want to go to college in Washington have been required to share their criminal past with campus officials since 1998, but recent high profile news stories and increasing enrollments have some colleges reassessing their notification policy.
Instructors at Spokane Community College expressed concern last spring about the growing number of sex offenders registered for classes on that campus. The three campuses of Community Colleges of Spokane have 20 registered sex offenders enrolled out of a total student population of 16,000, said Anne Tucker, spokeswoman for the Spokane college district.
The instructors felt the campus procedure for notifying faculty and students when a sex offender enrolled needed to be reviewed and updated, so a task force started working during winter quarter on some new rules that are now before the district chancellor for final approval.
College officials in other parts of the state mentioned the new Spokane policy as one of the most aggressive in Washington, because it requires the college to collect police reports and treatment history on the most serious sex offenders and allows conditional admission for some students.
Tucker described the policy as providing more clarity for both faculty and sex offenders. She said one change is the way the college will now cross check its enrollment against county sex offender lists instead of waiting for the students to identify themselves. Other colleges have used this same approach for years, school officials said.
Centralia College has a close working relationship with the local sheriff’s office, which notifies the college whenever a sex offender registers in Lewis County, said Michael Grubiak, vice president of student services. Notification on campus depends on the type of crime and the college’s notification policy hasn’t changed since state law on this issue was approved by the Legislature in 1998.
Shoreline Community College north of Seattle created a new policy a few years ago, which requires teacher notification, the posting of fliers and notification on the college Web site, said college spokeswoman Judy Yu. About one or two sex offenders are among the college’s 5,000 students at any time.
Teachers can share whatever they want with their students. “We can’t stop them, but I don’t think it’s encouraged,” Yu said.
Olympic College in Bremerton is another school reassessing its sex offender notification policy this year. The result, which is expected to be approved by the college board in August, is much more specific than the old policy but not more strict, said Rick MacLennan, vice president of student services.
MacLennan said a Level 3 sex offender described as someone who poses a potential risk to the community and is a threat to re-offend if provided the opportunity attended the college two summers ago.
Although the instructor was notified and there was a campus-wide notification, some people felt more should have been done to let students know they were taking classes with a Level 3 sex offender, he said, adding that the student didn’t cause any problems on campus.
One change in the new policy requires all students enrolled in classes with Level 3 sex offenders to be notified. MacLennan said the policy leaves some room for treating people as individuals, depending on the activity that got them arrested.
Olympic College, which has a total yearly enrollment of about 12,000 students, has no more than a handful of sex offenders on campus during any semester, he said.
MacLennan interviews every sex offender who comes through campus, except for some Level 1 offenders representing the lowest possible risk to the community who are not on the county law enforcement lists and do not always self identify.
One other concern at Olympic College is an unintended side effect of being an open access institution.
“Sometimes we’ll have sex offenders on campus who aren’t enrolled,” MacLennan said. “We had one last year who visited campus almost every day.”
MacLennan said he met the man, who was a Level 1 sex offender, and talked to him about his purpose for being on campus. He found out the man’s girlfriend was a student and they traveled together.
“Barring him doing something that is against the law, he has the same access as anyone else,” MacLennan said.
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