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Should felons be teaching your children?

Rick Patrick: Greene Publishing, Inc.

During a meeting of the Madison County District School Board on Monday, Aug. 6 discussion was held regarding proposed policy changes for the district. Some of these policy changes are mandated by the State. Others were suggested by a consulting firm hired by the district to help with policy updates and changes. One of those policy changes regarded the hiring of those who have been charged with a crime.

The current policy states that "a person who is found ineligible for employment or otherwise found through background screening to have been convicted of any crime involving moral turpitude as defined by rule of the State Board of Education, shall not be employed to provide services or serve in any position that requires direct contact with students." There was a proposal to substitute "any position that requires direct contact with students" with "any position." Board Member VeEtta Hagan raised concerns over this wording. "Florida is a very unforgiving state where juveniles have a felony charge. Adjudication may be withheld when you are a child, but that felony charge follows you as an adult," said Hagan. "We don't need to make it harder for a child that's made a mistake in their younger days to get a job in their older days. We're playing God here. We're saying, 'You are not to be forgiven for any mistake you've made.'"

According to the rule, "Standards relating to gross immorality and acts of moral turpitude," found in the Florida Administrative Register, moral turpitude is defined as: "a crime, regardless of whether the individual is charged or convicted, that is a felony or a first degree misdemeanor under the laws of the State of Florida or equivalent law in another state or U.S. Territory, or laws of the United States of America, that is evidenced by an act of baseness, vileness or depravity in the private and social duties, which, according to the accepted standards of the time, a man owes to his or her fellow man or to society in general, and the doing of the act itself and not its prohibition by statute fixes the moral turpitude."

Discussion ensued over whether this policy should apply to all district employees, as the change would suggest, or if it should be limited to those potential employees that have direct contact with students. It was suggested that in a district as small as Madison; very few, if any, employees would not have direct contact with students. "Anything that the state has not mandated, as being a board member, I don't see it as coming into conflict with anything we have," said Hagan. "We want folk to have a job. We want folk to have a lawn cutting job and stuff like this; and they got that felony charge. The court has shown mercy, withholding judgment on that juvenile. Who are we to say they can't change? Who are we to say that person can't have a decent job? We're making it harder and harder."

Hagan continued, "Madison is such a small town. We have a reputation of unfairness in our hiring practices here in Madison anyway and these folk leave Florida and go to Georgia and they talk about the hiring practices here in Madison and the unfairness of it. We can hardly get Georgia people to come over here. They're testing and if you pass the Georgia test, you can teach in Florida, but we can hardly get these folks to come over here. We have a better retirement system than they do."

Board Member Carol Gibson spoke up. "I was graciously elected to maintain high standards. That's what we're talking about here. We're either going to have high standards, or we're going to make exceptions to the rule. We are not in the business of employing people. We are not an employment agency. We're not trying to give everyone a job. We're trying to employ high-quality people. That's what it boils down to," said Gibson.

Gibson made a motion to change the wording of the policy from "any employee who has contact with students" to "any employee." The motion failed for lack of a second. A motion was made to keep the wording that states "any employee who has contact with students." That motion passed.

The policy changes adopted will be advertised and the public will have the opportunity for input before a final vote is taken.

The next scheduled meeting of the Madison County District School Board will take place on Monday, Aug. 20, at 6 p.m. The meeting will take place in the board meeting room at 210 NE Duval Ave., in Madison.

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