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Pinellas School Board candidate Corey Givens' degree claims false

Pinellas County School Board candidate Corey Givens Jr. has been touting his fast-track education.

At age 20, it seemed remarkable that this 2010 Lakewood High School graduate already had an associate's degree from St. Petersburg College and a bachelor's degree from Florida State University.

His campaign material even said that he is pursuing a master's degree at the University of South Florida.

The problem is, according to officials at all three schools, none of that is accurate.

Givens, who is in a five-way contest for south Pinellas' District 7 seat, attended St. Petersburg College but never received enough credits for a degree, school spokeswoman Wilma Norton said.

FSU counts Givens as a sophomore majoring in political science — not a graduate — according to university spokesman Jeffery Seay.

And USF spokeswoman Lara Wade said Givens became enrolled there this summer as a transfer student in the school's undergraduate — not graduate — mass communications program.

Questioned about the inconsistencies Wednesday, Givens at first defended his account of his schooling, which was documented on his campaign Facebook page, his campaign website and in a Tampa Bay Times editorial board questionnaire he submitted to the newspaper.

"I just got a degree in the mail," he said of his FSU credential. "A bachelor's of arts in political science."

Givens said he even participated in an FSU commencement ceremony in April and was convinced that he had left the school with a diploma. Asked for photos of the commencement and a copy of the diploma, Givens said he was traveling in North Carolina and couldn't provide any.

But in a followup phone call with the Times a few minutes later, Givens said he must have been mistaken.

He said he received "certificates" from both SPC and FSU that he believed were degrees.

"It was my misunderstanding," he said. "I always thought the certificate was the same as the degree. … At 19 years old, I guess I didn't understand that I wasn't getting a degree."

Seay, the FSU spokesman, said it's possible Givens received a certificate of some kind, but he was not familiar with anything called a "bachelor in arts certificate," which was what Givens finally said he received.

"Any kind of certificate is not a degree," Seay said. "I'm not disputing that he has earned something. But not a degree."

As for his schooling at USF, Givens said he was enrolled in five classes this summer and believed two of them to be master's-level classes. His campaign materials say he is seeking a master's and a second bachelor's.

Wade, the USF spokeswoman, said she couldn't confirm Givens' courses. She could say only that he is enrolled as an undergraduate — and not as a graduate student.

Givens faces four opponents for the District 7 seat left vacant by Lew Williams, who died suddenly in the middle of his term.

Also seeking the seat are School Board appointee Glenton Gilzean Jr., former St. Petersburg City Council member Rene Flowers, lawyer Keisha Bell and Thurgood Marshall Fundamental Middle School paraprofessional Cassandra Jackson.

Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at (727) 893-8707 or rcatalanello@tampabay.com.

Pinellas School Board candidate Corey Givens' degree claims false 07/18/12 [Last modified: Monday, October 15, 2012 3:25pm]
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