Maryland Passes Law Barring Juvenile Sex Offenders from In-Person School Attendance

Maryland has enacted new legislation prohibiting juveniles listed on the state’s sex offender registry from attending public schools in person. The measure aims to enhance school safety following an alarming investigation by Fox45 News.

The bill, known as the Juvenile Reform Bill (HB 814), swiftly passed through the Maryland General Assembly in just 72 days, fulfilling a promise made by Senate President Bill Ferguson to address the issue. “It did happen quick,” said Delegate Nino Mangione. “It was a shocking story that you guys did a great job with, and it proves that we can be bipartisan. We can come together and get important things done when need be.”

“I’m really pleased with the final product. I think it’s the right thing that protects students in schools and makes sure that everybody’s rights are protected,” Ferguson said.

The legislation’s amendment banning registered juvenile sex offenders from in-person attendance at publicly funded schools came in response to a Project Baltimore report that aired in January. The investigation revealed a 15-year-old on probation for second-degree rape in Harford County was attending Patterson High School in Baltimore City, despite also facing charges for another alleged rape in Baltimore County.

Prior to the new law, Maryland prohibited convicted adult sex offenders on the state’s registry from attending public schools in person, but the rule did not apply to minors listed on the juvenile sex offender registry. Under the revised statute, school systems must provide alternative education options, such as virtual learning, for registered juvenile and adult sex offenders.

While the legislation garnered significant public attention, the mothers of the victims featured in the Project Baltimore report were unable to comment due to court-imposed gag orders. However, according to State Senator Johnny Ray Salling, the mothers plan to advocate for further strengthening the law in the next legislative session by expanding the list of criminal offenses that would prohibit juvenile offenders from in-person public school attendance.

The bill faced opposition from civil rights organizations like the ACLU of Maryland, Disability Rights Maryland, and the Maryland Office of the Public Defender, who argued that the measure was unconstitutional. However, the state’s Attorney General determined that barring juvenile sex offenders from in-person learning does not violate due process rights and is constitutional.

The Juvenile Reform Bill now awaits Governor Wes Moore’s signature, which he has indicated he will provide. If signed, the law would take effect in the fall of 2023.