MANHATTAN (KSNT) – Sexual predators don’t have to look very hard to find a potential target: your child. What’s frightening is that your student’s school may be giving them a road map to where your child is waiting.
What we’ve uncovered that has many parents worried for their children’s safety. We found one Manhattan-Ogden elementary school that has nearly two dozen registered sex offenders living within a mile. What has parents concerned is that their school district publishes bus routes online, including the exact times students are picked up, dropped off, and where. We also learned they aren’t the only district doing so.
Twenty-two registered sex offenders live within a mile of USD 383’s Woodrow Wilson Elementary School’s front doors; 18 of them living in the neighborhoods surrounding the “Home of the Wolves” have child related convictions.”
“That scares me. That scares me,” one mother told us outside of the school.
Neighboring states Nebraska, Missouri, and Oklahoma restrict how closely registered sex offenders can live to schools. Kansas does not. Click here to see where registered offenders live near your home or child’s school. Rep. R.L. Highland of Wamego tells Kansas First News he believes there should be restrictions on where a sex offender can live when it comes to proximity to children. He says it should include not only schools but day care centers and other locations where children congregate.
“We as citizens have a great responsibility to protect and educate our children,” Rep. Highland wrote in an email. “We all take that responsibility very seriously and must do what is necessary to ensure their safety. The judiciary committee is the obvious place to begin the process of dealing with this issue in the legislature.”
The Kansas Bureau of Investigation notes on their website: “Currently, the State of Kansas has no law that mandates where an offender can or cannot live, work, or go to school, nor does Kansas law allow for local jurisdictions to have such laws, however this may be a condition of their probation.” Click here to read the KBI’s frequently asked questions section concerning registered offenders in Kansas. The state of Colorado also does not restrict where registered sex offenders can live, however some cities/jurisdictions within the state do. The Colorado Bureau of Investigation’s website reads: “Research supports the fact that these types of laws are not only difficult to enforce, but ultimately counterproductive to community safety.”
Because Kansas does not restrict where sex offenders can live, some parents were shocked to learn the Manhattan-Ogden school district lists student bus routes online.
“Our routes have always been posted, and that’s just the way it’s always been,” USD 383 spokeswoman Michelle Jones told us. “Is that necessarily the best way or the right way? That’s something that we’ve had conversations and we’re continuing to have conversations.”
Jones says it’s posted for parents’ convenience. We were surprised at how easily we were able to find not only the stops, but the exact pick-up and drop off times.
“So that’s just something you went online and easily looked up?” mom Kelly Johnson asked us, shocked that we knew exactly where to find her children.
“I would say it’s pretty concerning that just anybody can go online and look up to see where exactly the children are going to be at a certain point and time,” Johnson worried.
We went out to two morning bus stops on a USD 383 route. Sure enough, the information was accurate. We found mom Deborah Dandaneau waiting with her daughter.
“Well it kind of disturbed me a little bit. I probably kind of looked at you funny because I hadn’t thought of it before,” Dandaneau said when we later explained what we had been doing.
Another day at a different stop, a woman watching the students from her home came out to check on what we were doing there. These parents may be on guard, but what about children whose moms and dads can’t wait with them?
“We’ve talked about a site where parents can go in that’s password protected, and then they can get in to see their bus routes,” Jones explained.
But that hasn’t happened yet. The number of students at each stop was listed until just last week, anywhere from a single student to a group of 19. The district removed those numbers after we asked why they were necessary.
Parents we talked to say they’re open to the district’s password proposal.
“I think a password protection would be great because it’s an online thing that’s a service just to us parents,” Kelly Johnson mused.
Still, not every parent was critical of the school district’s decision to post the information openly online.
“With regards to sex offenders, I’m probably more concerned about when the kids get older and they have online access,” Dandaneau explained.
We emailed several north east Kansas legislators on the House and Senate education committees. Only Rep. Highland replied. He wrote that we “…must do what is necessary to ensure their [children’s] safety. It would also be prudent for the school districts to no longer publish the bus routes for public viewing.” Highland said that can be accomplished through the state association of schools boards or the state board of education.
We checked with other local districts. Both Geary County and Emporia schools use a transportation website called Infofinder. Learn more about Infofinder by clicking here. Their portals also are not password protected. Auburn-Washburn and Seaman school district’s bus stops can also be accessed online. However, their systems are password protected, making it only accessible to authorized users.
Infofinder, the website Geary County and Emporia schools use, tells Kansas First News they do offer password protection as an option. It’s something the district’s say they’ll consider, but for now, things will remain the same.
Hugh Davis, communications director for Geary County Public Schools, wrote in an email to us: “We will consider the security option, but as for right now we will continue to monitor our current safety and security practices already in place by our different community partners and families to see where modifications may need to be made to help keep our kiddos safe.” You can read USD 475’s full response to our questions by clicking here.
Meanwhile, Nancy Horst, communications director for Emporia Public Schools, also responded to our question concerning online access to their bus routes. She wrote, “Using a secure system to publish bus routes and times would not be prevent an individual from observing bus stops and easily determining bus schedules. Using a secure method online could make it more difficult for some of our families to get the information.” You can read USD 253’s complete response here.