Restriction, first in county, was sought by Sheriff’s Office at schools

  LYNDEN ­— A new policy adopted for the Lynden School District will trespass level 2 and level 3 sex offenders from campuses, unless given special permission by school administrators.

  The Lynden School Board passed the new policy at its Jan. 23 meeting. 

  “This policy is a good step to better ensure a safe environment for kids by providing notification to covered offenders that they cannot be on campus without prior permission,” said Superintendent Jim Frey. 

  The new policy states that those affected are level 2 or level 3 sex offenders who were convicted of a sexually motivated crime against a child, including rape, molestation or luring with sexual motivation. These individuals would have to leave Lynden School District campuses if asked, or face prosecution if they refuse to leave. 

  According to Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office deputy chief Kevin Hester, the sheriff’s department approached schools in the county about implementing a blanket policy so the sheriff’s office could send out notification to sex offenders who would be considered covered.

  Covered offenders could receive special permission to go onto school property with permission from the school’s principal and the superintendent. An example of a situation where a sex offender could receive permission is a parent-teacher conference or when a child is in a school play, Hester said. The permission would be clearly written out for where and when the offender would be allowed on campus. 

  Frey said he appreciates the work of the sheriff’s office with Whatcom County school districts to develop and implement this policy. “It strengthens our ability to control access by limiting individuals who are level 2 or 3 offenders and having an established process to remove level 2 and 3 offenders who do come on campus without prior permission.” 

  In fall 2019 the county sheriff’s department became aware of a situation involving a level 3 sex offender moving closely to a Bellingham School District elementary school, said Hester. 

  The man was not in violation of any court orders. He would walk his child to school, go to the school for lunches and participate at the school around children. Hester said there was an uproar when other parents got word of the situation. 

  Hester said often, after a sex offender has finished jail time and probation, “there’s not a lot of restrictions” from schools or children.

  After the Bellingham incident, the sheriff’s office, which is responsible for supervision of all sex offenders in Whatcom County, decided to research different laws to prevent something like that from happening again. State law RCW 9A.44.190 deals with criminal trespassing a sex offender against children. Benton County used this law to implement a blanket trespass upon sex offenders in their county, Hester said, but it pertains to parks and movie theaters too. 

  Using Benton County as an example, Whatcom decided to approach the school districts in the county with the option of adopting a policy that would blanket trespass certain level 2 and level 3 sex offenders from school property. 

  Hester says there are “about 400 or so sex offenders in the county” and 70 of them fall under the parameters for trespass. Most sex offenders in Whatcom County are level 1 and don’t qualify for the restriction, and not all level 2 and level 3 sex offenders committed crimes against children, so they wouldn’t necessarily qualify either. 

  Hester said the Bellingham School District is in the process of adopting a similar policy and as far as he knows, the Lynden School District is the first district to go forward with actually adopting a policy. All the public schools in the county are given the option to adopt the policy, but Hester said the information was just given to school superintendents at the beginning of January and he doesn’t expect all school districts to have made a decision yet.