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Pinellas schools investigate teacher for bringing in volunteer who was a sex offender

The Pinellas school district is investigating a Clearwater High teacher after learning a volunteer she invited to campus had been convicted of a sex crime against a child.

Chorus teacher Roseann Sheppard asked her then-boyfriend Cliff Barrineau to help with a couple of chorus events in 2009. She said she did not find out until later that he had been convicted in 1995 of a lewd assault on an 11-year-old girl.

District employees are instructed to bring potential volunteers to volunteer coordinators, so they can register and have their backgrounds checked. Sheppard, who is no longer dating Barrineau, said she simply forgot.

"I was just like spinning a million plates at once, which is the story of my life," she said Friday. "I broke county policy. I didn't follow protocol. I feel horrible about it."

District officials said Barrineau did not have unsupervised contact with students. They said they have not received complaints about him.

"We have thousands of volunteers who have registered and whose backgrounds have been screened," said school board attorney Jim Robinson. "Obviously, this is an unfortunate exception."

The district requires that volunteers disclose their criminal histories. It's not clear if its screening process would have picked up on Barrineau's history if he had failed to disclose it. For volunteers, state law requires governmental entities such as school districts to check Florida's sex offender registry, Robinson said. But Barrineau's crime occurred in 1995, two years before the registry was created. Policy also requires that the district check Pinellas records for criminal activity. Barrineau was prosecuted in Osceola County.

District policy further requires that volunteers who have unsupervised contact with students undergo a more thorough background check, just like employees.

Robinson said the district already instructs its staff about the volunteer policy and how to follow it. But in light of this case, he said, "there will definitely be increased awareness."

In an interview Friday, Barrineau said he pleaded no contest to the lewd assault charge in the 1990s because it got him released from jail after nearly two years, and avoided a possible life sentence. He strongly denied actually committing the crime.

Barrineau said he hadn't thought it necessary to stay away from children, but now, in the wake of news coverage about his situation, he said he probably should, "just so there's no stories again, or speculation or accusations."

Clearwater High principal Keith Mastorides did not return a call for comment.

Jim Lott, who helps oversee the district's Office of Professional Standards, said an investigation into Sheppard should be done within a few weeks. He said he could not comment further.

"My program has tripled in size. It's bursting with happy kids," said Sheppard, who joined the district three years ago. But "now my job is on the line because of this.

"If I could go back in time, I would do that."

Ron Matus can be reached at matus@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8873. Times researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report.

Pinellas schools investigate teacher for bringing in volunteer who was a sex offender 11/05/10 [Last modified: Friday, November 5, 2010 9:10pm]
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