Hernando School Board favors relaxing standards for background checks

After a recent background check, Pastor Clarence Clark learned he could no longer volunteer.

After a recent background check, Pastor Clarence Clark learned he could no longer volunteer.

BROOKSVILLE — The Hernando County School Board on Tuesday afternoon gave tentative approval to relaxing its background-check policy and bringing it in line with state standards.

The reason, in large part: Pastor Clarence Clark.

In July, Clark came before the board to plead his case. After thousands of hours of volunteering, mentoring and coaching in the district, he was told he could no longer volunteer due to a recently failed background check. In November 1996, Clark pleaded guilty to grand theft and uttering a forged instrument after he admitted stealing three checks from his employer at the time, court records show.

Though Clark was the impetus for Tuesday's discussion, his name was never mentioned. And although board members favored changing the policy, district safety and security manager Barry Crowley said that someone convicted on those charges would still not be allowed to volunteer in schools.

"That would prevent any new employee, any contractor and any volunteer from working in the district," Crowley said.

As it is currently written, the district's policy, which applies to volunteers, employees and some contractors, adds five background standards that go over and above state standards, he said.

The rules bar individuals who have a felony possession of a concealed weapon conviction, a misdemeanor drug conviction, a misdemeanor battery or assault conviction, an animal cruelty conviction, as well as certain employees who have committed a crime related to fraud and theft.

The grand theft charge on which Clark was convicted is a felony and considered more serious.

"That's where we currently stand with our background check," Crowley said.

But it is causing issues.

"We have employees that work with those violations in place and that have been arrested and convicted of those violations and kept their jobs," he said. "So it's kind of an inequitable application of those items."

He said there are bus drivers who can drive for the district, but who cannot work as contractors. There are teachers who can teach all day long, but who cannot tutor after school.

"That doesn't seem quite right," said board member Cynthia Moore.

Crowley said a district committee added the measures to district policy after changes at the state level.

"The committee wanted to keep some of the things they felt were important within the board policy," he said. "At that time, it wasn't a violation of state statute to do that. It is an issue now, as things change at the state level."

Board attorney Paul Meeker said the state has made it pretty clear that the district needs to adopt the uniform standards.

The state has said that "districts need to follow this uniform screening standard and that we cannot add to or take away from the standards of the screening," Meeker said. "To go over and above is going to be in violation of the Department of Education's mandates."

No board members spoke out against bringing the policy in line with state standards.

"Well, we have to meet the state statutes, I understand that," said Dianne Bonfield. "But above and beyond, I'm not in favor. We hold ourselves to a standard that is very questionable."

Board member John Sweeney agreed.

"We went above and beyond when it was permitted, and it was understandable," he said. "Now it's not, and we'll follow the law. This really is a pretty simple one."

Contact Danny Valentine at dvalentine@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1432. On Twitter: @HernandoTimes.

Hernando School Board favors relaxing standards for background checks 09/17/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 17, 2013 7:27pm]

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