Schools Balance Voting Rights With Student Safety

When Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced his executive order pardoning 35,000 parolees allowing them the right to vote, registered sex offenders were included.

The executive order was made ahead of the November election and New York primary election last year, causing concerns among school districts where voting for mid-term elections and primaries are occasionally held. Now, the executive order policy changes have spilled over to school district budget votes.

Ahead of Chautauqua County school budget votes May 21, some area superintendents have had to make the decision whether to let previously convicted sex offenders on to school grounds. On the New York sex offender registry, there are more than 200 entries for different individuals labeled as a level-two or level-three offender in the county. Sex offenders are rated on a three-tired scale from one to three with one being the lowest risk.

“If any such offender shows up they will be escorted off the property,” said Bret Apthorpe, Jamestown Public Schools superintendent, at an April 16 board of education meeting.

The executive order states parolees must indicate to their parole officer they intend to vote. The parolee is then required to receive written permission from the parole officer and the corresponding superintendent of the district they will be attempting to vote at.

Additionally, sex offenders are only allowed to vote after 7 p.m.

“It is unconscionable to deny voting rights to New Yorkers who have re-entered society,” Cuomo tweeted announcing the executive order in April 2018.

Apthorpe explained that his duties as superintendent are not to decide who can vote, but rather to keep students safe and therefore will not be giving registered sex offenders permission to enter school grounds. Additionally, if given permission, sex offenders are instructed to not remain in or loiter on school grounds.

At Panama Central School, Superintendent Bert Lictus told The Post-Journal he would “do whatever I have to do to keep our students safe,” but declined to comment on what the district will do specifically come May 21.

“Students at Panama will take precedent over anything else,” Lictus said.

Ed Bailey, Clymer Central School District superintendent, concurred with his fellow school administrators on exercising his power to limit such parolees from entering school grounds if a request is submitted. Bailey was uncertain if the issue will be raised in the coming weeks as the district has had no related incidents previously.

Maureen Donahue, Southwestern Central School District superintendent, said the district will treat each request separately and decide how to proceed if they receive any submissions.

“We have not had any requests and we’ll deal with them individually,” Donahue said.