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Registered Sex Offenders Must Now Provide Notice Before Visiting Schools

By D&K’s School and Higher Education Law Team

2013 Wisconsin Act 88 (Act 88) requires the registered sex offender to notify the District Administrator or his/her designee (Administrator) of the specific date, time and place of the visit and his/her status as a registered sex offender. This new law, which is effective as of December 15, 2013, prohibits registered sex offenders from being in any school building, on any school grounds, school recreation area, or school athletic field, or on any school property owned, used, or operated for school administration unless the registered sex offender notifies the Administrator.

Act 88 does not prescribe a particular method of notification to the Administrator. Nor does it provide a form to be used for such notifications. Thus, it is not yet clear whether a verbal notification will suffice.

This obligation to notify the Administrator does not apply to a registered sex offender who is on school premises to vote in an election or to attend an event or activity that is not sponsored by the school. Moreover, if the registered sex offender has a child who is enrolled in the school, the specific notice to the Administrator is not required and instead, the registered sex offender may provide notice to the Administrator at the beginning of each academic school year, when the child is first enrolled in the school, or upon being designated as a registered sex offender, whichever occurs first. If the registered sex offender is a student enrolled at the school, the entity supervising the student (e.g., County, Child Welfare Agency, or other person) is required to work with the Administrator to ensure the safety of other students attending school with the student registered sex offender.

Act 88 creates Wis. Stat. § 301.475, which establishes that it is a crime for any registered sex offender to fail to adhere to the notice requirements in the statute. It also provides civil and criminal immunity to any Administrator “for any good faith act or omission in connection with any notice given under [the statute].”

It is important to note that Act 88 does not require the Administrator to allow the registered sex offender access to a school building or school district grounds. Nor does it explicitly permit the Administrator to refuse to allow access to a school building or school district grounds. School districts have significant discretion to control access to school buildings or school district grounds. In fact, most public school districts in Wisconsin have already enacted a board policy governing such access. School district officials should review the applicable policy when determining whether the Administrator should refuse access to a registered sex offender after receiving his/her notification of a planned visit to a school building or to attend a school district event.

Additionally, school district officials should anticipate calls and questions from members of the public about the impact of this new law. The attorneys at Davis & Kuelthau, s.c., are prepared to assist school district officials with such analysis and decision-making.

Please contact your Davis & Kuelthau, s.c. attorney if you have questions or concerns.