New Sex Law Has Loophole Victim, Offender in Same School

Article excerpt

Byline: Binyamin Appelbaum, Times-Union staff writer

ORANGE PARK -- A gray area in a state law requiring schools to keep youth sex offenders away from their victims has left the Clay County school system scrambling for legal grounds to separate two students at a Keystone Heights school.

The year-old law mandates the removal of students convicted of sex crimes from the schools and buses used by their victims. It does not apply, however, to student offenders placed in a pretrial rehabilitation program, state officials confirmed this week.

The implications of that distinction apparently had gone unnoticed until the mother of a 13-year-old student at Keystone Heights Junior/Senior High School learned last week that an 18-year-old man would be permitted to return to her daughter's school this fall despite acknowledging he had sex with the girl in the spring. Neither the girl nor her mother is being identified to protect the girl's identity.

The man, 17 at the time, was charged with lewd and lascivious battery because those under age 16 cannot consent to sex under Florida law. He is not being identified because he was charged as a juvenile.

The victim's mother allowed the teen to be placed in a pretrial diversionary program that seeks to rehabilitate juvenile offenders. The state won't discuss the terms of the agreement because it involved a juvenile, but the program generally requires participants to meet a list of requirements over a period anywhere from six months to two years. If the teen meets the terms of the program, he will not face charges.

Because the teen was never tried or convicted of the charge and made no formal admission of guilt, he is not barred by law from attending the same school as his victim, the State Attorney's Office confirmed Wednesday.

That has left the mother of the victim furious with what she said was an insufficient explanation of the consequences of allowing the teen to enter the diversionary program.

"She was willing to allow him to have something where his future would not be ruined," said Daniel Glassman, a lawyer retained by the victim's family. "Obviously, this was something she had never contemplated."

Assistant State Attorney Maryanne Yeomans, the prosecutor responsible for the case, acknowledged the mother was not informed the teen could return to school if he was placed in the diversionary program. Yeomans said she was unaware of that possible consequence and that the State Attorney's Office is not responsible for the implementation or enforcement of this law.

Because the teen has already signed an agreement, Yeomans said the victim's family can no longer retract its consent for his participation.

The law was proposed by state Rep. Dick Kravitz, R-Jacksonville, after he read a November 2000 story in the Times-Union about a Clay County teen who had to ride the school bus with her rapist and of another who saw her attacker in the school lunchroom. …