Wednesday, January 24, 2018
Education

Longtime Hernando school volunteer pleads case over ouster for old felony conviction

BROOKSVILLE — Pastor Clarence Clark stood before the Hernando County School Board on Tuesday night and lamented the fact that he was meeting new superintendent Lori Romano under such circumstances.

But he felt it was his only option.

After years as a volunteer and coach in the district, serving as a mentor and helping struggling students turn around their grades, Clark, 45, was informed in late May that he would no longer be allowed to volunteer in the district.

The reason: He failed a background check due to a felony conviction from more than a decade ago.

"I do think that it would be highway robbery to me and the children of the community (if) we do not hold a workshop to discuss this matter," he told board members.

The board agreed to schedule the workshop to review district policy concerning background checks for volunteers.

"It is our policy and it is our law, but that is not to say that it can't be looked at and changed," said board member Dianne Bonfield.

The denial of access came as a serious blow to Clark, president and CEO of Shiloh Problem Solvers, who says he has always been open about his past troubles.

"I've never asked the school district for one penny," he said. "I've logged over 10,000 volunteer hours."

In November 1996, Clark pleaded guilty to grand theft and uttering a forged instrument after he admitted to stealing three checks from his employer at the time, court records show. He cashed one for $450 and tried but failed to cash another. A judge withheld adjudication and sentenced him to three years of probation.

Nine months later, Clark was adjudicated guilty on the felony charges after violating four conditions of his probation. Court documents show he neglected to report to his probation officer, failed to pay fines and court costs, and did not report for court-ordered drug treatment. At the time, Clark was "by his own admission a drug addict," records state.

Under School Board policy, volunteers with student contact are required to have a Level III security badge. Those badges may be revoked due to a felony conviction.

In a July 29 letter to Clark, board attorney Dennis Alfonso wrote that the 1996 incident was sufficient to deny him his badge for the 2013-14 school year, disqualifying him from serving as a volunteer. The background check also will prevent him from continuing to work with the YMCA, Clark said.

On Wednesday, it was unclear why the issue of Clark's criminal record had not been raised previously.

Without naming Clark, Barry Crowley, the district's manager of safety and security, said he learned recently of a mistakenly issued badge after someone called him, concerned about the person's background.

Clark has volunteered in numerous district schools since 2000. Most recently, he served as Parrott Middle School's football coach and led the school's in-school suspension program.

Family members and former students came to Tuesday's board meeting to show their support for Clark.

Demarco Hudson had a simple message: Clark is a guy you can trust.

"I could call him if I needed anything," the teen told board members. "He's just that guy."

Times staff writer Tony Marrero contributed to this report. Danny Valentine can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1432. On Twitter: @HernandoTimes.

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