Many parents understandably express great concern since sex offenders may reside near their child’s school. Many parents wish to know more the risk of sex offenders living near their child’s school. It is important to know the laws concerning the Sex Offender Registration Act, commonly known as Megan’s Law.
Megan’s Law requires any person who has been convicted of a sexual offense to register with the Division of Criminal Justice (CJS) upon their release, discharge, or release on parole (Corrections Law § 168 et seq.). Dependent on their risk, the Board of Examiners will designate each offender as a “sex predator”, “sexually violent offender”, or “predicate sex offender”, and they will be assigned one of three risk classifications. A level one designation means the risk of a repeat offense is deemed as low, a level two translates to moderate risk, and a level three translates to a high-risk offender (Corrections Law §168-1(6)).
School districts are not automatically notified of the release of a sex offender into their school’s community, however, local law enforcement agencies are notified, and they may release information to any entity, including a school district, that may have vulnerable populations related to the nature of the offense committed by the sex offender (Corrections Law § 168(6)). Law enforcement agencies may release the following information about level two and three sex offenders to the public:
Any entity, which includes school districts, can re-disclose information they receive about registered sex offenders (Corrections Law §168-1(6)(b)). Also, any agency, agency officials and employees have immunity from any civil or criminal liability for any decision to release what they believe to be relevant and necessary information about sex offenders—unless they act with gross negligence, or in bad faith (Corrections Law § 168-r). The simulation or dissemination of a purportedly official notice that falsely suggests an individual is a registered sex offender is a class A misdemeanor (Penal Law § 240.48).
One important note is that level three sex offenders and persons convicted of enumerated sex offenses where the victim was under the age of 18, and placed on a conditional release, or paroled are prohibited from knowingly entering school grounds or any other facilities where children are cared for, where one or more persons under the age of 18 are present. This includes school grounds, day cares, summer camps, and community centers like the YMCA. This prohibition is a mandatory condition of release (Penal Law § 65.10 (4-a); Exec. Law § 259-c(14)). It’s also important to note that “school grounds” is defined by any building, structure, athletic field or land contained within the boundaries of a school area or any area accessible to the public within 1000 feet of a school (People v. Diack, 24 N.Y.3d 674 (2015); Williams v. Dep’t of Corrections and Community Supervision, 136 A.D.3d 147 (1st Dep’t 2016).
Similarly, level two and three offenders will be found guilty of criminal trespass in the second degree if they knowingly enter the school attended, or previously attended by one of their victims. However, because young people can also be sex offenders, if the level two or three offender is a registered student the school or a lawful participant in a school-sponsored event, then he or she can be there without a crime being committed. Also, if a school is the offenders designated polling place, then he or she is legally able to enter the school grounds, but only for the sole purpose of voting.
Knowing the ins and outs of Megan’s Law is important for any parent, or person who cares for children. Though there are limitations to where registered offenders can go, it is still up to the parents, school staff, and other community members to ensure that the children of the community remain safe.
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