The Investigators: Are your children protected from predators while at school?

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - When it comes to sexual predators, schools are supposed to be safe places. Experts say society has gotten pretty good at keeping convicted sex offenders away from places where children go like parks and play grounds. There are even laws against where offenders can live, they can't live near daycares or within a thousand feet of a school.

But what about underage sex offenders who are actually in the schools? The ones who've been convicted, but still are required to get an education?

As it turns out, they could be sitting in your child's classroom and you'd never know it. But should you?

Curtis Nelson is an assistant district attorney here in East Baton Rouge Parish. Nelson prosecutes anyone from age 10 up to 17, including the cases where one child or a young teenager violates another.

While some of the offenses are considered less serious; like sexting or experimentation, others though, can be quite serious. Depending on the offense, that sexual offender could be in your child's class without your knowledge.

"If a juvenile commits a crime the only difference between them and an adult is we call them delinquencies," he said. "When it comes to sex crimes we see the full gamut, first-degree rape, second-degree rape, third-degree rape…"

Nelson points to the case of Quinton Adams, a former student at Tara High School in Baton Rouge.

Adams had already been charged with rape and was even required to wear an electronic ankle monitoring bracelet. Adams though somehow managed to get to a special needs schoolmate and according to the sheriff's office, Adams raped her.

It's unclear whether the school system knew about Adams' previous rape charge. One thing is for sure, the victim's mother says she had no clue her child was in the same school as a sex offender.

"He needs to stay in jail," she said. "I don't think he needs to be around any children. I think he shouldn't have been at school."

The school system estimates they are monitoring about 160 students. Of those they could not say how many are convicted sex offenders, mainly because school officials say they do not know the specific charges for those students. Depending on their age, teens convicted of sex crimes have to register with authorities. But in most cases it stops there and does not include notification.

Dr. Brandon Romano treats children with sexual behavioral issues and says labeling young people as sex offenders and making them register leads to more problems down the road, mainly because there are different levels of offenders.

"But we also have the camp that says, 'I as a parent have a right to know if my child is sitting next to a child who has a sex offense' in a classroom setting," he said. "One thing that I try to inform parents and educate others is that every day you come in contact with someone who has a sex offense. You may stand next to them in the grocery store, they may be your waiter at a restaurant, they may be your next-door neighbor, they may be your colleague, and they may be one of your best friends. It's not until we hear that term sex offender that raises that level of hysteria and then things change. And then we automatically assume we tie sex offender to something such as predator."

By law, juvenile criminal matters are usually kept secret. But depending on the interpretation, part of the law allows for the court system to at least tell school officials about a student's criminal matters.

"There is a mechanism in place for a school system to get that information," Nelson said. "The difficulty is for a parent, a parent may not know the avenues to try to get that information."

New superintendent Warren Drake says he is proud of the way the East Baton Rouge School System handles young offenders in general. The superintendent admits though, he's not sure if parents are brought into the loop.

There is an office within the school system that handles students in trouble with the law. "They are known as the Bridge Coordinators and so as a judge hands down something for a child, then we work with them to make sure that they get the proper placement," Drake said. "Whether it's a large setting, a small setting, whether it's a regular school or different smaller setting school."

Even with monitoring, some can slip through the cracks, like the case at Tara High. The victim's mother in that case is suing school officials for damages over what she calls a 'lack' of monitoring.  The case is still working its way through the system.

If by chance your child shares a classroom with an underage sex offenders, Dr. Romano offers hope that treatment at a young age often times works.

"There's actually been some studies that have shown that there is a decrease in sex crimes among juveniles but there's been an increase in public awareness and an increase of reporting," he said. "That's why I believe that we're starting to hear and see more of these offenses that are occurring."

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