Investigation into Countryside officials highlights lack of proper paperwork



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Mon. October 8, 2012 | Bob Putnam | Email

Investigation into Countryside officials highlights lack of proper paperwork

CLEARWATER — An unregistered assistant coach who was removed for using sexually-explicit language toward a player has resulted in Countryside High School’s head football coach, principal and athletic director being disciplined.

The Pinellas County School District’s Office of Professional Standards investigation — whose files were released to the Tampa Bay Times on Monday — found that Countryside officials failed to submit paperwork on Derrick Smith, a defensive backs coach the past two seasons who was not cleared by the district to volunteer. A letter of caution was issued to head coach Jared Davis. Letters of reprimand were issued to Countryside principal Gary Schlereth and athletic director Lewis Curtwright.

The OPS opened an investigation into the Countryside trio after Smith was dismissed Sept. 10. Smith never should have been considered for coaching because he was labeled a “no rehire” by the district following a 2008 investigation that found he used excessive profanity and force on a student while a teacher and football coach at Lakewood. He was also on administrative leave at the time for downloading pornography on a school laptop.

District spokeswoman Melanie Marquez said Monday that two years ago the practice was changed to not allow employees labeled as no rehires to volunteer, and a new database was put in place last year that can flag them. That explains why Smith was allowed to coach at Dunedin — former football coach Mark Everett said paperwork had been submitted on Smith — before landing at Countryside.

“If Countryside had submitted paperwork for Derrick Smith, he would have been flagged and ineligible to coach,” Marquez said.

The county has stressed the importance of submitting paperwork on volunteer coaches the past two years, especially after Palm Harbor University fired football coach Mark Haye in December 2010 for intentionally allowing a volunteer who had a criminal record to coach.

“We put much emphasis on the importance of the needed paperwork as it relates to our overall athletic program,” Pinellas County athletic director Nick Grasso said.

But Countryside has had trouble following those guidelines.

Schlereth’s letter of reprimand says: “Two years ago, there were similar concerns regarding the use of volunteers with the football program, and at that time, you were verbally instructed to correct the processes at your school to ensure all volunteer personnel who work with students are registered.”

The county handbook also clearly states: “Principals and administrators are responsible for coordination and supervision of volunteers.”

When reached at the school Monday, Schlereth refused to comment.

When coaches apply to be a volunteer, they must disclose any incidents involving a law enforcement agency or criminal charges. They also must sign a coaching agreement and go through a background screening that includes a check of criminal records.

Schlereth puts part of the blame on Davis in his letter of caution to the coach: “This event would not have occurred if you had taken the proper steps to make sure all of your assistant coaches have completed their volunteer paperwork in a timely manner as mentioned in various meetings about volunteers in pre-school meetings with the administration.”

Curtwright admitted in a letter to area superintendent William Corbett “that we had multiple volunteers who were not registered.” But Curtwright said those volunteers were identified as school teachers who were either working in the district and or at Countryside, according to the letter. Smith, however, has not been a school district employee since resigning from Lakewood.

“…The district policies have been nebulous or at least have not been effectively communicated to the assistant principals in charge of athletics,” Curtwright wrote.

Smith’s dismissal as an assistant coach stemmed from an email sent by a parent to Curtwright and Davis regarding the explicit language, including a remark about oral sex, used by Smith in practice.

“In light of the (former Penn State assistant coach Jerry) Sandusky (abuse) case, I am a little unnerved. Did Countryside perform a complete background check on this coach? Did this same coach get fired from Lakewood due to a porn episode? I want Countryside to win at all costs, but not at the safety of innocent children,” the email said.

The internal investigation also said Smith was meeting with players at their homes.

Davis, who did not return a phone call seeking comment, said in the report that he had not turned in Smith’s paperwork because he was waiting for a copy of Smith’s driver’s license and assumed he was a school district employee.

Davis told investigators he did not know about Smith meeting with players, had never heard any name calling or had players come to him regarding the language being used by Smith.

When asked by investigators if he is good with paperwork, Davis replied, “Not a whole lot.”

Bob Putnam can be reached at putnam@tampabay.com.


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