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District limits offender access

The Fargo School District will allow a man considered to be a high-risk sex offender to visit his stepdaughter at school, provided he is accompanied by relatives.

The Fargo School District will allow a man considered to be a high-risk sex offender to visit his stepdaughter at school, provided he is accompanied by relatives.

The district will allow the 32-year-old Fargo man to visit Hawthorne Elementary if he is accompanied by his wife or father-in-law. In emergencies, the man must call ahead to the school. Otherwise, he is not allowed on school grounds, Assistant Superintendent for Planning and Communication Lowell Wolff said Friday.

The situation came to the district's attention when a parent with a child in the Hawthorne and Clara Barton elementary area complained to the school board and asked for a policy.

Wolff said the district is crafting a policy to handle future situations. For now, each situation will be decided on a case-by-case basis, he said.

He said administrators are working with lawyers and hope to have a policy prepared for the school board to consider at its first meeting in November.

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Wolff said the nature of the man's crime, for which he received a 30-day suspended sentence, allowed the school district to be flexible.

"We don't think it's a one-size-fits-all situation," he said. "What's notable about this is that this is the first time that we've had (a sex offender) who has become a stepparent, so it's a new experience for us as well."

The man was convicted of misdemeanor sexual assault for fondling five times a boy who was a relative when the boy was between the ages of 5 and 9, according to the North Dakota attorney general's sex offender Web site.

The incidents occurred between 1992 and 1998, the Fargo police Web site says. The man was convicted in Walsh County, N.D., court in 2000 and sentenced to 30 days in jail, which was suspended for two years.

The Fargo police Web site lists the man as a Level III sex offender. Level III offenders are considered high risks to offend again, the Web site says.

In an unrelated security concern, schools will now lock handicapped access doors during the day and will require a call ahead to school officials for them to be opened, Wolff said.

The policy goes into effect at each school after principals notify all parents of handicapped children of the new policy and how to gain entrance.

The first school in the district to put the policy into effect was Lewis and Clark Elementary, Wolff said.

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Parents of children with disabilities have taken the new policy in stride, he said.

He said they understand that the Americans with Disabilities Act policies written in 1990 took effect before the rise in school violence or the proliferation of cell phones, which make mobile communication easy.

"We also tested the waters with ADA advocates and have been pleasantly surprised that they are supportive of these kinds of things as well," Wolff said.

In another security enhancement, Wolff said all visitors to Fargo schools must sign in at the main offices and get a card or sticker that identifies them as a visitor.

Wolff said students are asked to report people in their buildings who do not have a staff or visitor ID showing.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583

Helmut Schmidt is a reporter for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead's business news team. Readers can reach him by email at hschmidt@forumcomm.com, or by calling (701) 241-5583.
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