Senate fast-tracks bill to keep juvenile sex offenders out of Maryland schools

Lawmakers in Annapolis are fast-tracking a bill to prevent juvenile sex offenders from attending Maryland public schools in person. Senate Bill 1145, sponsored by Senator Johnny Ray Salling, aims to enhance student safety by barring juvenile offenders listed on the state’s confidential juvenile sex offender registry from classroom instruction.

The urgency stems from a recent case highlighted by Project Baltimore involving a 15-year-old on probation for second-degree rape attending Patterson High School in Baltimore City. Although that student has since been removed and is learning virtually, the incident prompted calls for legislative action.

Current Maryland law already prohibits adult sex offenders from taking classes inside schools, mandating alternative education means like virtual learning. The proposed bill expands this policy to cover juveniles on the sex offender registry as well.

“This bill holds a significant implication for the safety and well-being of our children in schools,” Salling stated during a Wednesday committee hearing. “It’s a priority that we pass this bill.”

The juvenile sex offender registry, maintained by the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, is not public like the adult registry. As of late February, it contained only 108 names statewide, including the 15-year-old Patterson High student after he was recently added.

Senator Salling stressed the need for swift action, noting the legislative session’s looming end in less than four weeks. “If we’re not swift enough, somebody else is going to do it and get away with it. So, we need to really attend to this and do it wisely.”

Senate President Bill Ferguson has pledged the bill will pass before the session concludes, stating, “100 percent agree with the sentiment and approach of trying to figure out how young people are protected from someone who could commit harm.”

The mothers who initially reported the Patterson High case wanted to testify but are under court orders prohibiting public comments. Their actions catalyzed this legislative effort to enhance school safety measures regarding juvenile sex offenders.