By: Dani Page, Inside Clermont

Sending your kids to school everyday should be as easy as breathing, get them up, feed them, pack their lunches, give them a kiss and send them on their merry way skipping off to school. Errr, wait …..not so much.

You see, schools around the country are over looking coaches and teachers felony records, sketchy pasts and even current allegations against them made by students and sometimes other staff members.

Take, for instance, Lake County Florida School District, a county that boasts to be the home to over 1,000 pristine lakes and rivers, mostly conservative with about 390,000 residents. Sounds like a dream, right? Not so much. Not when it comes to the school district’s poor vetting process when hiring teachers and coaches and even worse, their lack of attention and action to allegations against them.

Over the last several years Lake County Schools have had teachers arrested for sex with students as well as inappropriately touching students. Just 6 months ago, a football coach had several allegations against him by both students, staff and a female vendor all of which fell on deaf ears with no reprimands. The female vendor, however, who alleged battery, ended up filing a police report against the football coach, but only after the school failed her, by refusing to fire him.
Looking into the coaches background, he shouldn’t have been hired to begin with. He was previously charged and arrested for domestic violence, however the victim dropped the charges.

He was fired from multiple schools for being inappropriate toward students and his players’ mothers. There was even a case in Mississippi where he sent a nude pic to a mom. Additionally, in Alabama, he was reprimanded by the State Board of Education because of inappropriate comments to a student and to staff, resulting in having to take an anger management class. So, how was it he was hired by Lake County Schools, not to mention immediately fired when the school received all of the allegations against him? They clearly overlooked his past reprimands dealing with the same exact allegations. Despite that, why did they overlook a domestic violence charge? What, because he was never “convicted”? That shouldn’t matter, taking the totality of the facts, they should have come to the conclusion this guy was bad news. Hell, a simple google search would prove him to be a stain on society, had Lake County just taken the time to look.

This particular football coach first got my attention after I received a tip about his background and how his disgusting behavior was carrying on, this time, at East Ridge High School. This led me to public record requests where I scoured his Lake County Schools employment application and found discrepancies and flat out lies, such as using the same phone number 3 times for different references, references that the assistant principal stated he spoke to, even writing down what the references said. Really? How did that happen, did all 3 of those references live together, yet in separate states? What witchery is that? Well, I’ll tell you, you see, that particular assistant principal went to the same college and was in the same fraternity as the football coach, apparently it was an unspoken act of frat boy love, or was it the fact that they were all avid BLM supporters?

This coach’s need to have the players kneel during games gave that away and the fact that all the assistant principals and principal had recently posed in a pic all masked up on their twitter page with the post reading “if you can’t breathe, we can’t breathe”, “we stand with you”. Which is clearly against the Florida Administrative Code Rule 6A.

It wasn’t until I brought this to the attention of the district that the twitter post was removed and the football team was made to stand during the anthem.

The most infuriating thing, however, was when I brought all of the evidence against the football coach before the Lake County School Board 3 times to try to get him fired and the board disregarded me, laughed at me (literally) and I was even slandered publicly by board member Kristi Burns calling me a “fraud” and a “scam artist”, stating I was just trying to make money off my Facebook page. You can imagine how disgusted and furious I was.

It wasn’t until the last time I approached the board after I found out about that reprimand by the State of Alabama I mentioned earlier, that they finally decided it was safe to fire him. Never mind that he had allegedly sexually assaulted a vendor, sexually harassed staff and talked inappropriately about his players mothers and to juvenile female students, no, it was him omitting his reprimand from his employment application that took him down. It took me a total of 3 months to accomplish what should have been done in 2 days and quite frankly, if they vetted properly, would not have happened at all. For the record, the female vendor had to go to counseling because what she endured at the hands of the football coach destroyed her mentally.

I asked myself after he was finally fired, what was it going to take moving forward for Lake County Schools to take allegations against a teacher/coach seriously? Or at the very least vet their applicants more stringently, a child getting raped or murdered on campus?

Well apparently they didn’t learn their lesson with him or the past arrests of their teachers, because Lake County Schools are right back in hot water regarding yet two more coaches. One, a physical education teacher/coach at East Ridge Middle School who felt it necessary to take “pics” of the gym while juvenile females were playing volley ball, he later admitted that he was going to send them to his friend in Japan. Are you kidding me?

The investigation was a joke and the disposition was just a written reprimand that would be placed in his permanent file and he was asked to be “more cognizant of students’ rights to privacy”….he was temporarily let back on campus. However shortly thereafter, a parent viewed the security footage and pointed out that he was in fact videoing the girls as well. The jury is out on what’s happening so far with that new info, but he is absent from campus again. A further public record search showed he was previously reprimanded for speaking inappropriately to a juvenile female and was placed on probation for 30 days.

Lake County Schools clearly dropped the ball on this one, because when he was caught taking pics of students he was still on probation from his last indiscretion. It was their oversight. How can they “overlook” his probation? Every Lake County parent should be outraged over the district’s ineptitude. Any and all allegations against a teacher/ coach that’s currently on probation should automatically be fired.

Which leads me to the next coach and currently the one I’m working on forcing the district to investigate, but as of late, I’ve had no luck, despite my producing evidence against him. This particular coach is a cross country track and field lay coach at Lake Minneola High School. He should never have been hired to begin with, as a matter of fact, he was actually denied by the hiring committee because of “multiple felonies”. Yes, you read that right “multiple felonies” his prints came back from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement as such.

He was arrested and charged with 2 felonies in 2004, one for custodial interference and one for kidnapping. Lucky for him, the kidnapping charge was nolle pros, lack of prosecution, so the state attorney didn’t pursue the charges. However, on the custodial interference charge, he was found guilty/adjudication withheld and received a mere 1 day probation after appearing fifteen times in court. It was these felonies that Lake County

Schools denied him firstly a Level 2 volunteer status (although claiming he already was approved for a Level 1 was actually the reason, where no fingerprints are taken) and then again later, for a lay (paid contract) position. However Lake County Schools offer an “appeal” if you are denied employment, which there is no reason to, as Florida Statute does not afford you an appeals process if you are denied employment, after all we are an at will work state.

Apparently the school district are bleeding hearts to some capacity and want to be “equitable”. During his appeal they gobbled up what he had to say regarding his felonies and decided to overturn their own denial, thus overruling Florida Statute. Had they just abided by state law, we wouldn’t currently have twenty plus allegations against him and 14 cross country students off the team.

How did this happen? Why did they choose to overrule state law? Were they pandering? Afraid of a lawsuit? Since we all know people love to pull the race card these days, were they afraid he would? The allegations against this coach are mostly bullying but several are allegations about his indirectly injuring the students by forcing them to do drills and run regardless of current injuries and landing them into physical therapy because of his actions. Parents are outraged. They sent voluminous amounts of emails to the principal, Linda Shepherd and the assistant superintendent, Chad Farnsworth as well as the entire school board, to no avail.

Students even came forward with signed statements. One student in particular was allegedly ridiculed and embarrassed in front of the entire team by this coach when he asked them all to “vote” whether the student should be allowed to stay on the team or not. This child’s teammates were literally made to stand up and vote for or against him, inclusive of his own sibling. How demeaning and clearly in violation of Florida’s own Administrative Code Rule 6A-10.081, Principles of Professional Conduct for the Education Profession in Florida, there are several he violated, but specifically, Section (2)(a)(5) Shall not intentionally expose a student to unnecessary embarrassment or disparagement.
There are numerous allegations by the students themselves stating they were forced to run with injuries or they wouldn’t be able to compete at the next meet.

Allegedly he threatened if they attended prom they couldn’t run at the next meet. Allegations are just that, until proven true, however just days before the parents were to go before the school board to speak publicly regarding the allegations, this coach hired an attorney to write one parent in particular a cease and desist letter or they would be sued for defamation and she was to shut up by October 25th, ironically, the same exact day of the school board meeting. The rest of the parents and even myself, were “cc’d” on this letter, which I called a scare tactic. Only a few believed the letter and actually backed down from appearing before the board, the rest showed up to speak and low and behold, nobody has been served with a lawsuit.

Sending this letter to parents at the behest of the coach was now bullying the parents, not a smart move if you’re being accused of bullying, but I digress.

The bullying didn’t stop with the parents and students however, allegedly the coach also bullied other coaches to the point 3 of them quit. One, being female, stated she was yelled at and belittled so much by not just him but his wife and an assistant, who are also teachers, (for the record, his assistant was arrested and charged with larceny over $300 in 2018) that she would go home and cry. This particular coach is one of the 3 that quit allegedly due to the coach’s bullying and egregious behavior.

The assistant superintendent of Lake County Schools, Chad Farnsworth, was made aware and had received all of these allegations and chose to do nothing. He didn’t question the coach, he didn’t question the accusers….nothing. He didn’t even bother to forward the info to employee relations to investigate because “he didn’t feel it warranted an investigation”. His words, not mine and yes, I have that in writing. Lake County is all about mental health awareness and anti-bullying, yet here they are creating and contributing to just that, ironic isn’t it?

Fourteen kids have since quit the team because of the bullying and receiving injury after injury for his inept coaching style. They just want to get back to running for their school, proudly wearing their school colors, but instead have been forced to join traveling teams outside of the school district.

Why won’t they investigate him? Why was he hired with felony charges? Why did they overturn their own decision? I had questions. I started with his application for employment and found lies instantly, per public record. He padded his experience by roughly 13 years. Per Lake County Schools application, by signing it you are attesting that everything is true and accurate.

I’ve brought this to the board’s attention twice and they still refuse to do anything and I was again, laughed at by board member Stephanie Luke, as per the usual. I painstakingly even went through each and every Florida Administrative Code and Florida Statute that not only the coach was in violation of, but the principal and assistant superintendent was in violation of.

I have since forwarded the information to Professional Practices in Tallahassee with hopes they will investigate and help these kids get back to what they love, but in a healthy environment.
In the words of one of the more vocal cross country parents regarding the situation, Wendy Sloan, “When those injured, deflated, scarred children are your own, it makes you question whose interests the school board really has in mind, because it is not our kids.”

Dani Page, Inside Clermont