Sex-offender mom challenges ban on school visits

Sex-offender mom challenges ban on school visits

By Deborah Elkins
Published: July 1, 2011

Tags: ,

A Spotsylvania County mother says being banned from schools and daycare centers because of a 1993 sex offense violates her constitutional right to rear her children.

But a Richmond federal court has dismissed her lawsuit challenging a Virginia statutory scheme that forced her to “out” herself as a sex offender in order to get permission to be on school property.

“Jane Doe” was convicted in 1993 of carnal knowledge of a minor without the use of force, and was required to register in Virginia as a sex offender under Va. Code § 9.1-902. A former teacher, Doe alleged in her federal lawsuit that she had a consensual affair with a student. Under a 2008 statutory amendment, her offense was reclassified as a “sexually violent offense” because she was five years older than the victim.

Personal information that identifies registered offenders is available in the online registry, but the plaintiff sued under a pseudonym to challenge statutory restrictions that keep her from enjoying the kind of daily routine available to most parents of young children.

As the parent of three children, one school-aged and two nearly ready, Doe said she cannot attend parent-teacher conferences, take her kids to school if they miss the bus or have a doctor’s appointment, take her son to Cub Scouts, enroll her children in after-school programs or have them vaccinated at a program offered through school.

She also claimed the statutory restrictions interfered with her free exercise of religion because area churches she might want to attend have daycare or Sunday school programs subject to the restriction.

Virginia’s statutory scheme allows for relaxation of restrictions on a registered offender’s presence at a school or daycare center through a petition to the circuit court. The statute also requires notice to the commonwealth’s attorney and notice to and permission from the particular school administrator or daycare proprietor.

Doe did not pursue the petition-and-permission procedures because she said it would force her to affirmatively disclose her identity and status and would brand her three small children as the offspring of a sex offender.

Instead, she sued the Spotsylvania County school board and the Virginia state police, saying she was entitled to file an anonymous petition.

The federal court had no jurisdiction over Doe’s claims because the defendant school board could not take any action until a circuit court acted on a petition for entry onto school grounds, said Richmond U.S. District Judge John A. Gibney. If the court denied the petition, it didn’t matter what the school board would do, he said. Nor had Doe approached the board or any churches to request permission to enter their property.
She doesn’t know whether those institutions would require her to disclose her identity, or to whom disclosure would have to be made, the court said in Doe v. Va. Dep’t of State Police. (VLW 011-3-350).

As to her complaint that the school board should allow an anonymous procedure, the court said this was “nonsense. The Board must know the identity of the applicant in order to make informed decisions concerning entrants on school property and to ensure the safety of schoolchildren.”

Doe still had many ways to participate in her children’s education, the court said, through phone calls and off-site meetings with teachers and administrators. Her inability to go on school property was no different that that of “an incarcerated parent, or a rural parent who has lost her driver’s license,” Gibney said.

Please contact us if you have questions or need legal assistance.

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Tucker Griffin Barnes P.C.
Charlottesville, Virginia
434-973-7474

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