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Let schools weigh safety

Published January 18, 2007


Parental involvement correlates so highly with a student's educational success that any attempt to ban a parent from Florida public schools should be carefully scrutinized. Leave it to state Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, to try to write a blanket prohibition into law.

Fasano wants to ban parents who are designated as sexual offenders or predators under state law, and the impulse is understandable. Some of these offenders cannot and should not be trusted around children. The problem is that Florida's list is in the tens of thousands, is constantly changing, and includes such a broad array of offenders as to be misleading.

Emilio Johnston, for example, is a registered sex offender and father of four children who is a PTA member and a regular campus visitor. Johnston was 18 when he was accused of having sex with his 15-year-old girlfriend. He pleaded no contest to lewd or lascivious conduct, received probation and is labeled a sex offender.

Johnston, now 24, is married, works as plumber, and his wife says: "We go to every parent-teacher conference and open house, and when I have to work he takes the kids himself. You have no idea how wonderful it is to have a husband who wants to be involved and take care of his children."

Does Fasano really want to cheat Johnston's children of their father's visible involvement in their education?

Schools already are supplied with the state's list of registered sex offenders and use it as a guide to keep unwanted adults off the campus. But when the offender is also a parent, other factors are worth considering: What type of crime did the parent commit? How long ago was it? What types of school events does the parent want to attend?

Andrea Zahn, Pinellas schools spokeswoman, says principals look at each case individually. "First and foremost, we are going to be very sensitive about the emotional well-being of that child," she says. "We don't want to punish a child for the acts committed by a parent."

These decisions are difficult and require a detailed review of the circumstances, which is why Fasano and the Legislature need to keep their distance. A state edict is not needed. Schools are supposed to protect children from adults who would hurt them, but parents who have had trouble with the law aren't necessarily a danger on campus.

[Last modified January 17, 2007, 21:16:52]

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