Students with a criminal past might get a cold reception from Columbia County educators.
Columbia County School Board members enacted several policy changes at a Tuesday meeting designed to keep students convicted or accused of a serious crime out of mainstream public schools.
One of those policy changes included preventing sex offenders from attending public schools.
Anyone listed on the state's sex offender registry is banned from attending school, unless a judge orders a school-aged sex offender to attend school as part of their sentence. In such a circumstance, the student must attend Crossroads Academy, the county's alternative school.
The new policy comes on the heels of a 20-year-old former Harlem High School student convicted of molesting a 15-year-old classmate at the school gym.
Christopher Allen Hall plead guilty last month to molesting the minor. He was a registered sex offender in Columbia County for a March 2002 conviction of child molestation and criminal attempt to commit rape.
Part of his sentence was to attend school. Board members unanimously passed the policy.
Trustees also approved a policy that requires students accused or convicted of a felony to face a review from the superintendent, associate superintendent and assistant superintendent before being allowed into the system.
Schools Superintendent Tommy Price said the policy is meant to inform educators and not to prevent a child from getting an education.
"This isn't to deny enrollment, but to create awareness," he said.
The review board could opt for Crossroads Academy, depending on the severity of the crime, Price said.
Another possible policy change keeps students charged or convicted of a felony from participating in extracurricular activities.
"A student charged and taken into custody, indicted or convicted of a crime won't be allowed to participate in school-related extracurricular activities until the charges have been dropped or he is exonerated by the judicial system," Associate Superintendent Charles Nagle said.
The board gave tentative approval to the new policy. Board Member Lee Muns was absent from the meeting, but he openly criticized the policy changes at a July 13 board meeting. He sent an e-mail, obtained by The Columbia County News Times, to fellow trustees prior to Tuesday's meeting urging them to carefully consider their decision.
"I believe we need to be very careful here and make sure that we do not start pulling kids out of the regular school setting just because they may have been charged or indicted for a felony," Muns wrote. "We do need to remember that our Constitution clearly states 'innocent until proven guilty."'
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