By: Angela Wolfe
Let me paint the picture for you.
One day, a 39-year-old registered sex offender on parole for two separate cases of gross sexual imposition with both victims being under the age of 13, happily and without restriction, enrolled at Cuyahoga Community College. A stipulation of his parole states that he is prohibited from unsupervised contact with minors under the age of 18.
On that same day, a bright eyed and bushy tailed teenage girl in her early years of high school, took advantage of an opportunity that she heard about in her class that allowed her to have a step up by taking courses at a local college. The program is designed to give her a competitive edge among her peers. Wanting to excel beyond the current status quo, she also enrolled at Tri-C.
Now, as mandated by the college’s open access policy, and its collaboration with the Cleveland Metropolitan School District through various programs such as, the High-Tech Academy and Gateway to College, the two students are able to sit next to each other, communicate with one another, participate in extra-curricular activities together, and interact in a social setting. They are now intermingling as classmates in a child-to-adult relationship – all unsupervised. And, unbeknownst to the blossoming young lady, he is a pedophile.
Currently, there is no policy in place that addresses sex offenders. Tri-C never inquires about their status or stipulations. The kids, their parents/guardians, and any other watchful eye who could intervene are not made aware that such danger lurks nearby.
This laissez-faire attitude of Tri-C fosters an unsafe environment that has resulted in predatory behavior on occasions. With documented cases of sex offenders violating their parole, unwarranted sexual advances, and most terrifying of all, reported cases of alleged kidnapping and rape on campus of minors; begs the question, if Tri-C has the power of autonomy to implement a policy to protect these children – why haven’t they?
Renee Richard, Tri-C’s Vice President of Legal Services, stated, “The decision was made in 2012 that we will not require self-reporting in an effort to promote the colleges position as a college of open institution in second chances.” She also said, “What we have is our student code of conduct that requires all our students to act in a manner that ensures the health and safety of our students.”
But is that enough to truly ensure the safety of the minors on campus? Obviously not given the above real life scenario that took place here at the Metro Campus.
Tri-C could implement a policy to check names against the sex offender registry during the enrollment process, in an effort to deter unqualified sex offenders from gracing the campuses with their presence.
However, Richard went on to say, “The responsibility is not on the college to do this, the responsibility is on the sex offender to keep that distance.”
People on the frontline feel that more could be done. “It would be a great help to administrators and a relief to the parents to have a photo identification of all registered sex offenders on campus,” said Stacy Huchinson, Principal of the High-Tech Academy.
A couple of precautionary examples that Tri-C could look to for guidance in this instance would be, Ohio’s Columbus State Community College. They have put in place a felony report program that requires convicted criminals to self-report. Or, to make a bigger statement of zero tolerance, Tri-C could follow the footsteps of Lake Michigan Community College, which bans sex offenders with child victims from taking courses on their campus. Alternatively, they fittingly offer them online classes.
Many students shared the same outlook on this topic. “I think that Tri-C should first identify sex offenders upon enrollment, and then notify the parents (of the minors)”, Said Cora Franklin, Metro Campus Student Government President.
Culinary Arts student, Danielle Quarles stated, “There are a lot of young females on campus that may be afraid to speak up if an incident occurs.”
Recording Arts and Technology Assistant, Eric Wilson, feels that “It should be a screening process to ensure the safety of minors.”
Nursing student, Akia Darden, says, “I feel like there should be an alert that goes out to the students.”
Engineering student, Brian Grays, said “I don’t support the opportunity of the open access policy to sex offenders. It’s okay to have standards.”
So, for all the great opportunities that Tri-C has to offer high school students who wish to get a head-start in life, it would be a shame to lose the programs due to this liability.
While Tri-C Metro police Lt. Ronald Wynne suggested students follow the motto, “If you see something, say something.” I suggest the administration come to understand that prevention is key, and start giving this topic the proper attention it deserves.
Until then, fellow students must keep an attentive eye, and ban together to protect one another.