Why was sex offender on field trip? Greenville Co. schools explains

GREENVILLE, S.C. (WSPA) — Fifth graders at Woodland Elementary went on a field trip to Charleston, along with chaperones of course.

Shortly after the buses left the school, Woodland Elementary received an anonymous tip that one of the chaperones was on the South Carolina sex offender registry.

As soon as the tip was confirmed, law enforcement was called.

Greenville County Schools spokesperson Beth Brotherton says that registered sex offenders are not permitted to serve as volunteers or chaperones in GCS.

Brotherton said that the chaperone was never alone with any students, and he was immediately removed from the trip.

She also stated that all children were checked into hotel rooms before the chaperone was approached by police, so they were unaware.

The district has completed an investigation.

They say existing Greenville County Schools’ volunteer protocols required individuals to be checked through the Hall Pass system by school personnel immediately prior to each instance in which they may have unsupervised contact with students.

Hall Pass is a software system used by the school district to check each volunteer’s name and date of birth against sex offender registries across the country.

They say Woodland personnel failed to follow district protocols that require volunteer checks immediately prior to field trips, instead using clearance received in September for the field trip in May.

They say Woodland Elementary School staff have performed a total of two checks on this parent through the Hall Pass system: once in March of 2015, when he was a parent chaperone on a day trip to Atlanta, and once in September of 2015, when he was checked as a potential parent volunteer for the May Charleston trip.

They say Hall Pass records support assertions by the Woodland staff that the system did not flag him as a sex offender in either instance, though he has been identified by the system as a sex offender in every test run since the day of the field trip.

They say they have been unable to determine with absolute certainty the reason the Hall Pass system failed to identify this parent as a registered sex offender on two separate occasions, though it seems likely the State’s process of transferring sex offender records from the existing “Offender Watch” system to its newly implemented “SORT” software may have interrupted accurate reporting on at least one of these occasions.

The district says they are taking steps to prevent, to the extent possible, future incidents.

• Field trip chaperones throughout the district will be required to undergo a sex offender check no earlier than the Monday prior to the trip.
• As a further precaution, a criminal background check will be conducted annually on potential chaperones. This additional screening is similar to the pre-employment required for district employees.
• Any system alerts will be assigned to an individual within the district’s information security office for follow up.
• A dated copy of the Hall Pass check will be retained with field trip records.

The school district says the have addressed the failure to follow GCS requirements for the timing of the volunteer check with the individuals responsible.

Parents of outgoing 5th grade students were contacted and made aware of the findings.

“We are relieved that the outcome of the investigation confirmed that this parent was never alone with students. Nonetheless, we believe it is important to implement these new field trip protocols, including the additional criminal background check, to further ensure the safety and security of the students in our care,” said Brotherton.

SLED Spokesperson Thom Berry said that the SORT Database that the Greenville County School District referenced would not have come into play during the dates that were mentioned because they were still under Offender Watch.

SLED is looking into this.

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