By Sally Voth
School boards would have to alert parents of children whose bus routes had stops near sex offenders' homes and take other measures under a bill proposed by Del. Robert Marshall, R-Prince William County.
HB 1369 (PDF) would require local school boards to put in place policies that would minimize the number of bus stops that were 500 feet or less from the home of a registered sex offender.
Additionally, Marshall said in a Tuesday phone interview, parents of children whose bus routes included such stops would get a notification.
"Notifying them, it may encourage [school districts] to put bus stops elsewhere," he sad.
Marshall said he was motivated to introduce the bill after hearing of bus stops near sex offenders in Fairfax County, a jurisdiction he doesn't cover.
"I just think we need to do this so the parents are alerted to the circumstances and they can take whatever precautions they think prudent to take," he said. "I know it would be hard [to pass legislation if] I made it a criminal offense to live near a bus stop. This is the simplest way to get some level of protection for students and alerting the parents. I think this is something for public safety that parents would be interested in if they knew this was going on."
Del. Todd Gilbert, R-Woodstock, said he would support such legislation.
"I think anything we can do to minimize the risk of our children being preyed upon by known sex offenders is a great thing," he said Tuesday afternoon. "We have a hard enough time protecting our children from the unknown, but when you have known sex offenders living in an area, we should be able to take advantage of that information in order to help protect our kids."
- The fact is, most children are not assaulted by known sex offenders, but unknown sex offenders, family or close friends, so this is another piece of legislation that makes them look good, but does nothing to protect anybody or prevent crime.
Warren County School Board Chairman Roy Boyles wasn't yet aware of the legislation, but said anything that protects children was a positive.
"If that's deemed appropriate and approved by the legislature and it's mandated that we end up having to look into that to ensure children's safety, I'm sure that we will do our best to be able to do that."
Frederick County School Board Chairman Stuart Wolk also hadn't yet reviewed the proposed bill.
"We take students' safety very seriously," he said. "Our bus drivers have specific training on what to watch for and such."
That safety would have to be balanced with the logistics of a system that has about 700 bus stops, according to Wolk.