School bus stops and sex offenders: Should they be at the same address?
By Hayden Godfrey and Bryon Glathar
Uinta County Herald
Via- Wyoming News Exchange
EVANSTON —After learning her children’s bus stop is directly in front of a registered sex offender’s house, Evanston resident Danielle White contacted law enforcement, Uinta County School District (UCSD) No. 1 staff and legislators.
White said she received a digital alert a few weeks ago notifying her of a sex offender near her old address. Out of curiosity, she entered her current address. Her children’s bus stop, located at 624 Main St., was marked. The resident at this address has been convicted of assaulting children.
“So I called the bus barn,” she said.
After speaking with an employee, who allegedly claimed there are many sex offenders within the district, White reached Transportation Director Travis Fackrell for further questioning.
Fackrell reportedly told White that, if one bus stop were reviewed, UCSD No. 1 would have to review all bus stops, which would possibly be a challenging endeavor.
“I think parents would be more happy to receive a phone call or a letter,” White said, “than not know if their kids are in danger.”
While releasing addresses may not be necessary, White said, the public should at least have an approximate idea where offenders may be found.
She then spoke to Assistant Superintendent Joseph Ingalls, who White said recommended she make arrangements with her children’s schools and the UCSD No. 1 transportation department.
“Where I live, they told me Evanston Middle School and Evanston High School are walking distance,” White said, “so my two oldest would have to walk to school.”
White said her children’s transportation options are limited, as she was recently involved in a car accident and is presently without a vehicle.
“I am now a weekend parent,” she said. “My kids have to stay with my mother so they can get to school.”
The children presently spend Monday through Friday at their grandmother’s house, and White has not told them why.
White said the Uinta County Sheriff’s Office said it cannot take any action.
UCSD No. 1 Superintendent Ryan Thomas said the district will look into moving the bus stop in time for next year, but doing so during a school year can be logistically challenging.
“That’s another three months when we’re putting our kids in danger,” White said.
She said she feels a significant number of children could be fooled by their miscreant neighbors.
“I’m very frustrated as a parent, and I worry about all the other children,” she said.
Thomas told the Herald in an email that student safety is the district’s top priority.
“Student safety in UCSD #1 is our number one priority,” he said. “We do determine the location of the bus stops, but we have no control over who moves into and out of neighborhoods in our community.”
Thomas said both the bus stop and the offender have been at that address for more than a decade.
“The bus stop at 624 Main has been there for years,” he said. “It has been there so long nobody knows how long. According to EPD, the individual Ms. White is concerned about has lived at that address for at least 10 years.”
Evanston Police Department Lt. Ken Pearson confirmed that fact, adding that the offender hasn’t caused any problems in that time.
“There is no state or federal law that governs the location of bus stops near reported sex offenders,” Thomas said. “Our transportation department does reference the sex offender database and uses it appropriately.”
He then explained how bus stops are chosen.
“Bus stops are strategically placed by the transportation department based on the student population, efficiency of resources, and locations where the buses can stop safely with limited restriction to local traffic,” he said. “Stops are not moved very often, especially during the school year, because it maintains consistency of routes, time schedules and enhances safety.”
Thomas said it’s the district’s job to get students safely to school, but parents are responsible for their kids’ safety at bus stops.
“We certainly do not control who lives where they do or who moves in the neighborhood, but we do have a responsibility to transport our students to school,” he said. “The responsibility for supervision at a bus stop is the parents. Our bus drivers are trained to be vigilant about any safety concern, and report issues that occur at bus stops. UCSD #1 is confident in the process used to determine bus stops; we do listen to all concerns and would never knowingly put students in danger.”
White mentioned an app called Offender Watch, which notifies parents if their children’s devices pass sex offenders’ houses.
“You put in your number, your address, and if your small children have phones, you put in their numbers…” she said. “It will alert you when your child is near a predator’s house and it will ask you if you want to report it.”
The app, she said, will list an offender’s name, address and appearance.
The Herald reviewed the sex offender registry and bus schedules and found there is a registered sex offender residing at the apartment complex at 204 Bear River Dr., another school bus stop.
White spoke to Wyoming Sen. Wendy Schuler, asking her to take legislative action on the issue.
The two were surprised to learn the statute mandating sex offenders’ distance from schools did not apply to bus stops or playgrounds.
Schuler told the Herald that the issue is primarily in the hands of UCSD No. 1 at the moment, as there is nothing applicable written in statute.
“It does not specify anything about bus stops,” she said, adding that she and her colleagues will look into legislative action, but that process could take time. “It’s certainly a problem we need to do something about,” she said.
Schuler plans to meet with a legal team and discuss possible solutions.