Following the arrest of an unregistered sex offender smoking marijuana near Teaticket Elementary School last Monday, school officials convened a forum Wednesday night to address parents’ safety concerns.
At the heart of the matter is a public access path that runs from Maravista Avenue along the northern edge of the school’s playground and connects through a small wooded area to the bottom of the parking lot behind 7-Eleven on Teaticket Highway. By several accounts, this lower parking area and adjacent woods is a popular hangout spot and is frequently littered with drug paraphernalia, including hypodermic needles.
The sex offender was arrested near a group of large stones where the path connects to the parking lot, a distance of 200 feet from where the path merges onto school grounds.
A group of 26 parents gathered in the school’s cafeteria Wednesday night and expressed multiple concerns to a panel that included superintendent Bonny L. Gifford, Teaticket Elementary School principal Susan E. Driscoll, and Falmouth police Lieutenant Douglas M. DeCosta.
In response to alarm regarding the sex offender’s proximity to the school, Lt. DeCosta said the man’s offense occurred more than 20 years ago and that “not all sex offenders are pedophiles.” He said that 90 percent of sex offenses occur with a person the perpetrator knows. Parents should be more concerned about “Uncle Bob” than anonymous Bob on the street, he said. “Someone walking around is not as much of a risk.”
A few parents expressed dismay that Massachusetts does not have a law that prohibits sex offenders from being on school property. A mother worried that sex offenders would be entering the school during elections to vote. “There are sex offenders who have children, and they come to the school to pick their children up,” Lt. DeCosta said.
“My concern is what are my children seeing?” said a mother. What if a drugged person decided to pee in the woods in view of the children, she asked.
“If it’s a known druggie area, maybe increase patrols,” a father suggested.
A few parents expressed dismay that Massachusetts does not have a law that prohibits sex offenders from being on school property.
Dr. Gifford said she has talked with both the DPW and police about how to increase safety in the area. She said police have already stepped up patrols after she passed on concerns voiced by parents at a meet-and-greet session prior to last week’s arrest. The DPW has cleared some brush, and intends to do more work to increase the area’s visibility. Lighting the area at night is also being discussed, Dr. Gifford said.
Many parents liked the idea of fencing in the playground. “I will fundraise my rear end off” to get a fence, one mother pledged. “A fence is an idea on the table,” Ms. Driscoll said.
Ms. Driscoll expressed skepticism when a mother said her boy saw two young people living in woods adjacent to playground/ “Children have vivid imaginations,” she said. This caused a murmur of disapproval to run through the crowd.
In regard to concerns about drug paraphernalia on school grounds, Ms. Driscoll said “we’ve never seen it or had kids find it.”
A mother raised her hand to contradict the assertion. “My daughter did find drug paraphernalia on the playground, and it was a hypodermic needle,” she said.
School Makes Effort to Educate Students
A discussion on the proper disposal of such items followed. Ms. Driscoll said she would direct the school adjustment councilor to talk to children during the school day about “stranger danger” and not touching trash.
After the meeting, parents had mixed reactions. Peter J. Friel was reassured to learn that the sex offender-smoking marijuana incident occurred closer to the parking lot than the playground. “I was glad to hear it was farther away from the school,” he said.
Ellen P. Leary said “I’m not afraid of a sex offender. I’m not worried about abductions.” She said she came to learn more about what was going on in the areas abutting the school.
Others remained concerned the discussion pointed to serious danger. “I just want a fence, it only takes five seconds to snatch a kid,” Heather L. Duncan said.
Yesterday, the day after the parent forum, Claire Z. Poole, Teaticket’s school adjustment councilor, talked to students during their lunch periods about school safety .
At 11:45 AM she addressed the 2nd grade.
“If you see a grownup that you don’t recognize out on the playground, you need to tell a grownup you do recognize,” she said.
“Those grownups are the wise people you can go to” if something bothers you, she said in a matter-of-fact tone.
“What if you saw trash, or an object you don’t recognize?” Ms. Poole asked. “Tell an adult.”
“Yes,” the children chorused together, and then went back to eating their lunch.
Faith Anderson, the owner of Let’s Cycle Cape Cod, the business closest to where the path connects to the parking lot, said that she sees people who “look a little shady” walking the path and hanging out around its entrance. But, she added, she’s never felt threatened by them. “They’re not disrespectful,” she said. “You feel bad for these people.”
Ms. Anderson described the parking lot as “drug-ridden” but also complimented police on their vigilance as of late. “The police are doing a great job,” she said.
Ms. Anderson recently placed a green trash can at the entrance to the path. “And they seem to be using it,” she said. She said the area is habitually strewn with lottery tickets and cigarette butts. She will occasionally find and remove hypodermic needles using a trash grabber, she said. She guessed that people shoot up in their cars and then throw the needles out the window.
Two homeless people pitched a tent in the woods abutting the path over the summer but have since moved elsewhere, she said.
When Ms. Anderson learned the school was considering lighting the area at night, she said, “It should be lit out there, there’s no doubt.”
Ms. Anderson grew up in Falmouth, and said she recognizes a few of the young people hanging out as children of the people she grew up with. “It’s our own,” she said.
Correction: November 18, 2013
A previous version of this article incorrectly had the following statement in quotes: What if a drugged person decided to pee in the woods in view of the children, she asked. That was not a direct quote, but actually the reporter paraphrasing what an audience member had said at the Teaticket School forum. We apologize for the error.