Published January 13, 2015
School and law enforcement officials have told a St. Joseph man that he can't attend his son's eighth-grade graduation because he is a convicted sex offender and isn't allowed on school property.
James Jones, 36, said he may go anyway although the Buchanan County Sheriff's Department has told him he would be arrested and face up to four years in prison.
"I've already been punished for this. This isn't about me anymore. Now they're punishing my kids, and that's taking it a little too far," said Jones, who served five years in prison after being convicted in 1990 of forcible rape of a 15-year-old girl when he was 17.
"I'm always preaching education to my children. How does that make me look if I'm not there at graduation?"
In August 2006, a state law went into effect prohibiting sex offenders from going onto school property without permission from the district superintendent. The only exceptions were government meetings or polling sites.
Rather than deal with individual requests, Buchanan County superintendents said they will ban all sex offenders from their schools.
"If I start deciding which offenders can and cannot be at school, then I become the judge. And it is not my position to judge a case. The courts have already done that," said St. Joseph School District Superintendent Melody Smith. "My job is to provide the safekeeping of 11,632 students and the people who attend our events."
Smith said she's denied requests by five offenders, four of whom visited her office.
"Half of them have been extremely sad about the decision, and half of them have been rudely angry," she said.
The county Board of Education, which would normally consider appeals, is so far backing Smith's decision.
Jones is not a registered sex offender as his offense happened before the state's sex offender registry law went into effect in 1995. That means he doesn't have to check in with the sheriff's department every 90 days, but he does have to follow other restrictions for sex offenders.
Sheriff's investigator Shawn Collie said although Jones has argued against the school property restriction more than any other offender, he has signed an agreement acknowledging he knows about the restriction. That means he can't claim ignorance if found on school grounds, such as for the May 22 graduation.
"We'll be there. And we'll arrest him if he's there," Collie said.