Sex offenders may have to stay 300 feet away from a preschool, but they can have two feet in a UCF classroom.
Currently, there are four sex offenders enrolled at UCF, one of whom attends classes on the main campus, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement website.
In comparison, the University of Florida has no known sex offenders on its staff or as part of its student population; Florida State University has two sex offenders who attend classes on its main campus; and University of South Florida has six sex offenders who attend classes on its main campus.
"UCF's review of applicants who self-disclose a criminal history has become more stringent across the board since these students were admitted," Courtney Gilmartin, public information officer for the UCF Police Department, said in an email.
Prospective students must disclose any criminal history when they apply for admission to UCF. Applicants who self-disclose a criminal history — anything from a DUI to a sex crime — are evaluated by the Office of Student Conduct on a case-by-case basis.
"When reviewing applicants who self-disclose that they are sex offenders, Student Conduct looks at several things. First is that the applicant is no longer on probation; some time must have elapsed. We consider whether stipulations of probation were met, steps taken to rectify their actions, etc." Gilmartin said.
UCF places sex offenders on academic probation for the duration of their time at the university, bars them from living in on-campus housing and alerts UCF Police of their presence.
"All sex-offenders are not the same," said Kenneth Adams, a professor of criminal justice. "That category, even though it is more specific than felony, actually covers a wide variety of behaviors, and you also have the time dimension in terms of when was this offense committed. It could be perhaps 20 years ago that something happened and ever since then, the person has had a clean record."
On the FDLE's website, there's a list of 22 criteria that define a sex offender, including crimes that range from kidnapping a minor when the defendant is not the victim's parent or guardian to human trafficking. If a person meets the criteria, he or she must register as a sex offender.
"If you're a felon, you're denied a number of civil rights. One is voting, you're not allowed to vote. One is certain occupations, you can't be a barber, for example; you can't be bonded as a courier," Adams said. "Currently, there is no civil liability in terms of you cannot go to a state university, and I personally think that that's appropriate. I don't see that we would want to bar everyone, for all time, from the university so you're down to a case-by-case basis."
One argument against having sex offenders on campus is that UCF is home to the Creative School for Children, a preschool that caters to infants through children 6 years in age.
"Our main goal is to just keep the children here safe, and obviously the university allows [sex offenders] to take classes here so we're going to be OK with that also," said Kim Campese, associate director of the Creative School for Children.
There is a wall of pictures at the school's front desk of registered sex offenders in the area so that school officials can keep tabs on them.
"I believe that [UCF has] all the students' best interest at heart, so I believe that if they thought that there was anyone that posed a safety risk to anybody on our campus, be it another student or staff members, they wouldn't have them be here," Campese said. "With all the new policies coming out, to me it seems that the university is taking very seriously the safety of our students and staff."
Alex Wexelman is a Senior Staff Writer for the Central Florida Future. Email him at email@example.com.