Two months after Florida banned sex offenders from working on school grounds, a new law passed to do that is creating more headaches than help, school officials told the Orlando Sentinel. Thousands of criminals have been banned from public-school campuses since September, but most schools still aren’t sure how many were sex offenders. Although the state launched a database to simplify the criminal background-check process, Central Florida districts are opting not to use it. Most who are banned are not necessarily sex offenders. They could have committed any one of more than 50 crimes listed by the sweeping law, including aggravated battery or kidnapping. That was identified as one of several flaws with the background checks that are the centerpiece of the Jessica Lunsford Act, inspired by the case of the 9-year-old who was abducted and killed in February.
The man accused of suffocating and burying the girl is thought to have been a contractor at her elementary school. So lawmakers required school districts to screen all vendors, from delivery people to construction workers, and to ban any with criminal histories from working at public schools. But the file is not broken down into categories that would be useful to schools. Suppose that at age 19 a man assaults someone and is convicted of a felony. “At 55, if you’re active in church and devoted to your kids and significantly changed your lifestyle, I’m not so sure we should hold that against you if all you want to do now is sell Pepsis on school grounds,” said one school official. About 15 percent of the 45,737 school vendors and employees have criminal histories.