Washougal school board won’t change sex offender policies

Parent now seeks new state law

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The Washougal School Board is remaining firm in its stance that the district’s policy regarding registered sex offenders on campus will not be changed, unless state law someday requires it to do so.

During a meeting on Feb. 22 the board heard comments from Washougal resident and parent Bill Stephens, who requested that it reconsider a Dec. 14 decision to not pursue implementing a new more restrictive policy.

Stephens would like the district to prohibit all level II and level III sex offenders from coming onto school grounds, without written permission from the school.

Currently, the Washougal School District does not prohibit registered sex offenders who have completed their supervised release period and are no longer on parole or probation from being on school grounds, although it has the legal right to do so.

“These people can come on school grounds and are meeting our kids in what is called a “safe zone,” Stephens said. “The School Board’s job in my opinion is to 1, educate our children and 2, protect our children. This is a big risk.”

Superintendent Teresa Baldwin said the district has sought legal and law enforcement opinions on the issue.

“They agree it would be relatively impossible, if not impractical, to enforce a policy [like the one proposed],” she said.

Stephens cited as an example the Fort Vancouver Regional Library’s policy, which states that a letter be sent to all level III offenders to inform them that they cannot enter a library building or receive a library card.

School Board President Blaine Peterson said instituting a similar procedure for the school district would not work.

“It would not be a feasible item to issue identification for all residents in this district,” Peterson said. “There is a big difference in how they deal with it, and how we would have to deal with it.”

Peterson said the schools already have proper safeguards in place to keep students safe and monitor who is coming in and out of the buildings. In addition, law enforcement keeps the district informed about local offenders in the area who are under supervised release, and are not allowed to be on school property or near children.

“In order for us to have that policy, we’d have to have someone enforcing it,” he said of Stephens’ proposal. “It’s more than $10 per school. It’s basically a full-time person. It’s just not a feasible thing for us to do.”

Stephens is currently working with 15th District State Sen. Jim Honeyford (R-Sunnyside) in an effort to get state law revised. As part of the proposed Senate Bill 5351, registered sex offenders would be banned from school grounds — unless written permission is received from the school. If approved, violation of the law would be a felony.

The bill is now being reviewed at the committee level, and would need to go in front of the full Senate and House, before it could make its way to Gov. Chris Gregoire to become state law.

Baldwin said if and when state law changes, the district will comply.

“That could take six months to six years, you never know,” Stephens said of the legislative process. “I want something now.”

This article also appears in the March 1 Post-Record print edition.