Bill seeks more child protection at schools

Proposals to keep sex offenders and other convicted criminals away from school property will be handled “as a matter of priority” by the government administration, according to officials with the Education Ministry.

Regulations are being developed under the territory’s Education Law to extend and strengthen child protection measures for those with direct access to children, according to ministry managers.

“[The plan is to] make it illegal for persons with certain offenses, including sex offenses, to be on school sites or school buses,” said ministry deputy chief officer Christen Suckoo.

Similar legislation was put before the Legislative Assembly earlier this year but did not proceed beyond a first reading – meaning it was not voted on.

“The ‘Safer Schools Strategy’…has become incorporated within the National Strategic Plan for Education and is a key area of focus for the work of the current ministry over the next four years,” Mr. Suckoo said. The issue came to the forefront in mid-2011 when it was revealed that a convicted sex offender was employed for nine days as a construction worker at Clifton Hunter High School.

Former Education Minister Rolston Anglin said the ministry investigated and confirmed a report of the convicted offender working for a subcontractor on the site.

The project subcontractor told the ministry the offender had spent three-and-a-half days at the site while the school was in session and six days there while the school, at the former George Hicks campus in George Town, was closed.

Mr. Anglin said the ministry did not receive any complaints from parents or from the school in relation to the matter.

Additional police checks for various workers in and around local schools were implemented after the incident, Mr. Suckoo confirmed.

The actions included a requirement for “separate construction zones” within the school property, isolating the construction site from the main school campus.

Additionally, construction workers are now not allowed to enter a school site without “express approval” of the project manager and the school principal. These changes were approved as part of health and safety requirements for future public school construction projects.

Government-run and private schools – including reception and tertiary institutions – were also notified by the ministry to comply with protection measures defined under the Children’s Law.

Police clearances are also required for anyone working in after-school programs, Mr. Suckoo said.