I-Team Sex Offenders in Schools
A big I-Team investigation uncovered hundreds of sex offenders in wisconsin classrooms right now. The scariest part: you're not allowed to know who they are.
When a convicted sex offenders move into a community, there's nothing secret about it. Their name, their address, and their picture show up on a public regsitry. In some cases, police even hold meetings to give neighbors a heads up.
However, there are other offenders living in wisconsin, their crimes sometimes just as horrific, whose faces you'll never see, with names you'll never know. Nearly every detail kept from the public, by law, because these anonymous offenders are children.
"It's a huge problem," says Greendale parent Carolann Matzek. "We need to be informed."
Parent Julie Campbell agrees. "I would want to know about that. I have a right to know about that."))
Not really. When a kid commits a crime, even a violent sex crime, Wisconsin law keeps the case, and everything about it, confidential.
"Juveniles are not mini adults, and the legislatiure has recognized that," explaine Milwaukee County Assistan District Attorney Lori Kornblum.
That means, after serving their sentences, juvenile sex offenders get to go back to school, without parents and classmates knowing who they are.
"I'd like to know what my children are up against and who's in my child's class, so that I can better prepare my child for whatever challenges that are presented to them," said Matzek.
The courts do give school districts a heads up when one of its students is charged, and again when a judge finds the offender innocent or guilty.
That's it. Districts don't get any details about what the kid did, and even if districts wanted to clue parents in, they can't. The law doesn't allow that, either.
"The big challenge is the balance of respecting and maintaining that child's confidentiality, as well as keeping every child in our district safe," said Therese Kwiatkowski, interim student services director for the Wauwatosa School District.
Basically, it's up to each district what it wants to do with the limited information it gets. In Wauwatosa Schools, for example, district officials alert an offender's principal. After that, there are no set rules over who gets to know what.
When asked if anyone alerts teachers, Kwiatkowski responded, "In some cases the teacher may know, and in some cases it may not be necessary."
What is certain, parents and students will most likely never know.
At the very least, the I-Team wanted to know how many juvenile sex offenders there are, right now, in Wisconsin's classrooms. We thought a good place to start would be the Department of Corrections which keeps a juvenile sex offender registry. Names, addresses, crimes, even where the offenders go to school. However, only law enforcement and victims' families have access to it."
After weeks of negotiating with the DOC, the I-Team managed to get a breakdown of juvenile registrants, 18 or younger, who reported attending a K-12 school. There are nearly 200 statewide.
In our area, we found two in Washington County, Three in Ozaukee County, four registered in Sheboygan County, six in both Racine and Kenosha Counties. Waukesha county has 15, While Milwaukee County leads with way with 47 registered offenders attending shcool.
But the key word here is "registered." Prosecutors say the actual number of sex offenders in Wisconsin classrooms is much higher
"Very, very few juveniles have been required to register," said ADA Kornblum.
Even though state law requires registration for all juveniles found guilty of a sex crime, the law also lets judges use their discretion to stay registration. That means offenders who complete their court orders, never have to register.
Kornblum wouldn't say if she felt that presented a problem, only that the law frustrates many Milwaukee County prosecutors.]
Kornblum sighed, "Well, we do what we can, we're bound by the law."
Laws that make tracking the actual number of juvenile sex offenders in local schools tough.
"There are certainly more than 47 kids in milwaukee public schools that have a history of sexual misconduct," admitted psychologist Stephen Gilbertson, who coordinates care and safety plans for many of those offenders headed back to school -- registered or not.
Turns out, Milwaukee County Childrens Court finds around 125 kids delinquent of a sex crime every year in milwaukee county alone.
"We are getting better at discerning who's at higher risk from the kids what are very low risk," Gilbertosn said.
Gilbertson also explained his research shows 90% of all juvenile sex offenders never do it again. Still, even he admits classmates need to be mindful of the other 10%.
"I certainly wouldn't encourage them to go be alone with that person," Gilbertson warned. "I mean, that wouldn't be real smart."
But remember, the law doen't let parents and students know who the offenders are.
"If the schools know about the juvenile's offense, then i would expect that the schools would make sure that there are safety measures in place," said Kornblum.
But for some parents, like Carolann Matzek, having faith in the system isn't enough.
"The school districts really just needs to be able to supply us with the information, and it's up to the parents whether they want to relay that information to their children, or whether they really just want to keep that knowledge to themselves."
It's a balancing act for parents, students and school districts --required to teach every child, no matter who they are or what they've done.