SPECIAL REPORT: Sex Offenders on Campus - WRBL

A Community Watchdog Special Report

SPECIAL REPORT: Sex Offenders on Campus

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TRI-CITIES, TN (WJHL) -

They've hurt children and they've hurt adults. Because of that, they'll always be known as sex offenders. These are people, in many cases, who by law now can't live too close to a daycare or church or school.

However, there is something they can do, something people may not often think about.

They can go to college and for the most part go unnoticed.

After searching through the more than 19,000 people on Tennessee's Sex Offender Registry, we found people classified as violent sex offenders who currently attend college in our area.

Northeast State Community College is a nice, quiet campus. But maybe things are a little too quiet. After all, there's something students don't know. 

In their midst are convicted sex offenders with a range of convictions. 

The news caught 20-year-old Megan Lowe off guard.

 "They talk about it all the time and they say you can go online and see them around your neighborhood, but I never expected them at a college," Lowe said. 

Before we broke the news to Lowe, the psychology major had every reason to feel safe while at school. Northeast State is home to surveillance cameras, a police force and emergency phones in the parking lots, but the college is also home to five sex offenders and two of them are classified as violent.

 At one point, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation reported eight violent sex offenders were enrolled there. The school confirmed two are still students. The Sex Offender Registry classifies John Steven Miller and Phillip Lee Taylor as violent sex offenders. The TBI reports Miller was convicted of criminal attempt to commit rape of a child in 2000 and Taylor was convicted of attempted rape of a child in 1991. 

However, most of their classmates and teachers would have never known that. The information is available, but it's just not publicized to the masses. Instead, students and teachers have to seek it out on their own from campus police.

 "The laws do not require that (we notify students), so we would practice whatever the law is to handle those measures, but every student has a right to privacy, so we have to follow those laws," Northeast State Community College President Dr. Janice Gilliam said. "Our goal is to help them and rehabilitate them and we feel it's law enforcement's job to monitor them and keep track of them. We're engaged in turning lives around." 

Over at the Tennessee Technology Center in Elizabethton, students shared a similar shock. The state says five violent sex offenders attended school there at one point. The school confirmed two are still enrolled.

Tennessee Technology Center said Cory Richard Ferranti and Randall Wayne Kelly are both still students. Ferranti was convicted of a lewd lascivious act in the presence of a child under 16 years old in 1991 and Kelly was convicted of lewd or lascivious molestation on a child under 12 in 2000, the Sex Offender Registry revealed. 

"I had no idea and it's kind of scary," 23-year-old student Cerissa Warner said after we told her. "It's really unsettling to know that we are in the same place as somebody who has hurt another person that way."

 Like Northeast State, Tennessee Technology Center also doesn't publicize which of its students are sex offenders, for privacy reasons, according to Director Dean Blevins. However, unlike Northeast State, Blevins says at TTC, some faculty and staff are in the loop.

 "I don't know that the realization is out there that there could be sex offenders sitting right across the aisle from you in class," Blevins said. "We monitor each student on a case-by-case basis and we let those folks know about a past offense on a case-by-case basis if they need to know." 

Betsy Holtsclaw wishes she found out sooner. For the 23 year-old student it's personal.

 "We should know, because that's our safety and our family's safety," Holtsclaw said. "I've had a family member that's gone through something like that, so I just don't agree with it at all. I know what it did to them."

Of the 19,222 sex offenders in Tennessee, we discovered 374 of those people are listed as students or employees of universities in Tennessee. None are currently enrolled in East Tennessee State University. 

We feel students, faculty and teachers deserve to know who their classmates are, especially when they're classified as violent sex offenders. Sex offenders have every right to attend college as long as they don't violate the sex offender restrictions. We reached out to some sex offenders who are students in an effort to share their side of the story, but never heard back from them. 

Although sex offenders do attend school at Tennessee Technology Center and Northeast State, both schools tell us in recent memory, they've received no reports of those people re-offending on campus.

Northeast State says for anyone who is concerned, the school offers police escorts to vehicles on request and rape aggression defense classes twice a year.

We also found at least one violent sex offender who was, according to the TBI, enrolled at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville in the past. However, the campus directory lists that person's status as inactive.


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