How safe are our children?

By Gus Bode

As soon as his students arrive on campus, Jim Berezow is there to make sure they are safe from sexual predators.

With 37 registered sex offenders in Carbondale as of Thursday, Berezow, principal at Unity Point Elementary School, and other area principals must take extra precaution to keep their kids safe. But relief may be in sight.

Senate Bill 1397, which takes effect June 1, 2007, puts harsher restrictions on sex offenders, including lessening the allotted time offenders have to inform police departments of modifications in their daily routine. The purpose of the bill is to further protect area kids from sex offenders.

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Tracy Newton, supervisor of the sex offender registry for the Illinois State Police, said the new bill shortens the amount of time sex offenders can report any movement in residence, or change in school and work from five days to three days. It also includes the offense of aggravated child pornography as a sex crime, she said.

Newton said the bill also adds to the current Community Notification Law by adding public libraries and social service agencies as places county sheriffs are obliged to report information about sex offenders, she said.

Despite already existing laws that protect children, Berezow said the school has some of it’s own protection policies.

Unity Point implements a bullying policy that reports any verbal, emotional or physical issues that could be construed in a sexual nature, Berezow said.

Students are also not allowed to walk home from school. They are required to be either picked up by a parent or ride on a school bus to get to and from school.

Berezow said he thinks sexual offenses should be taken seriously and that a first time offender should be severely punished.

“You’re a sex offender, it is a pretty serious crime,” Berezow said. “Our children are our most important resource we have, so I don’t think we can be too lenient about it.”

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Kelly Vasquez, a first-year medical student from New York, said as a mother of two young children, she does feel safe from sex offenders because either she or someone she knows always supervises her children, she said.

Vasquez said a sex offender should be required to live further than the required 500 feet from school area.

“That is roughly two blocks from school and if your kid walks four blocks home your kid is at risk,” Vasquez said.

Victoria Taylor, a sophomore from Chicago studying elementary education, said she feels the Carbondale community is safe for her 7-year-old daughter. However, Taylor said she thinks the Evergreen Terrace community is a “little too relaxed.”

“It seems like the community doesn’t focus on the possibilities of something happening to the other children,” Taylor said. “They allow kids to just be outside on their own free will and it’s not safe.”

Taylor said she doesn’t allow her daughter to be outside by herself and also gives her an emergency cell phone in case anything happens to her while out in the community.

Daily Egyptian writer Eugene Clark can be reached at 536-3311 ext. 263 or [email protected]

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