TAMPA — A system designed to keep violent criminals off public school grounds will be harder to enforce this school year.
Revisions to the state's Jessica Lunsford Act, named for a Citrus County child who was abducted, raped and murdered by a man who had been a laborer at her school, provides uniform standards concerning what workers can be denied access.
Previously, districts had more latitude and Hillsborough County considered itself especially strict.
The state law bans workers from being on campus when students are present if they have been convicted of so-called crimes of moral turpitude that include murder, kidnapping and several sex offenses.
While the district will still issue bright yellow badges with the workers' photos — in addition to blue state badges — it will no longer be permitted to disqualify based on certain crimes under Hillsborough's tougher standards.
These include some misdemeanor or felony drug offenses and some violent crimes, said Linda Kipley, general manager of professional standards who oversees the JLA process. Officials reviewed the applications on a case-by-case bases, she said, with the ability to reject a worker regardless of the disposition of the criminal case.
School board members were not pleased to learn they have lost that flexibility.
"It concerns me greatly that we cannot add any reasons for excluding contractors," said Candy Olson.
Kipley estimated the district handles roughly 1,000 applications for worker badges every year.
Under the old system, as many as 40 percent were rejected.
There is no telling how those numbers will change under the new system.
Kipley said she would send information to principals about the changes by the end of the day. While workers who meet state standards will be allowed on campus, principals and administrators can still make sure they are supervised while they are there.
Marlene Sokol can be reached at (813) 226-3356 or firstname.lastname@example.org.