People applying for teaching, paraeducator or coaching jobs in Polk County public schools will now have to list any arrest — not just convictions — on their applications.
In addition, criminal background checks will flag arrests as well as convictions. In the past, while arrests showed up on the checks, they didn’t preclude someone from being hired.
Superintendent Frederick Heid ordered the change in the district’s hiring policy after a Lakeland High School track coach was charged with sexually abusing a student.
“We’re updating the application to require ‘arrested,’” Heid told LkldNow.
Lakeland High School track coach Jarvis Lamot Young, 40, was arrested on Sept. 15 in the alleged sexually battery of a 16-year-old athlete. Young had previously been arrested in 2011 for the same crime, allegedly committed in 2004. But the charges were dropped because the statute of limitations had run out.
A record of that case can still be found on the Polk County Clerk of Courts’ website. Young had also been investigated by Lakeland Police for trying to unzip a boy’s pants in 2017, but the boy’s family chose not to pursue the case. That case is not on the clerk’s website, but LPD has a record of it.
Young wasn’t a teacher, but he was required to undergo a background check, which would have turned up any convictions. A simple Google search would have found a 2011 Ledger article detailing Young’s alleged crime and arrest. But human resource evaluators aren’t required to do Google searches.
“We are reevaluating coaches and anyone doing extracurricular work,” Heid said. “Anyone who got a hit, we’re reevaluating. We have formed a committee to look at it case by case.”
Balancing caution and fairness
Heid said the district has to be cautious with anyone working with children, but he said officials also understand that people can make a mistake. For instance, he said someone with a decade-old DUI arrest would probably still be considered for hire. The district is also struggling to fill vacant positions.
“We’re trying to be respectful and responsible so that everybody gets a fair review,” he said. But he added that any arrest involving the abuse of a child is now receiving extra scrutiny.
A review of Young’s Dec. 2, 2020, employment application provided by PCPS shows two background checks were completed.
The Human Resources department’s electronic checklist shows he provided “satisfactory references,” but it doesn’t list who they were. He also did not list the fact that he had been a coach previously for Lakeland High in 2011, when he was asked to step down because he had taken several members of the track team on an unauthorized trip to the YMCA to work out. He left the question blank about prior employment with the district and was treated as a new hire.
The unauthorized trip to the YMCA was the same year he and a Winter Haven pastor were arrested for allegedly taking two boys, 14 and 15 years old, to an Orlando hotel room. Young allegedly raped the 14-year-old while Arnold Maurice Mathis, then a pastor at Saint City Power and Praise Ministry in Winter Haven, allegedly sexually battered the 15-year-old. Florida’s age of consent is 18, although there is a so-called “Romeo and Juliet” statute, allowing for minors ages 16 or 17 to engage in sex with partners no older than 23. Both Young and Mathis were older than 23 at the time.
Coach didn’t disclose past problems
In December 2020, Young filled out the PCPS application and electronically signed several pages, including one acknowledging that as part of his employment record, he would be fingerprinted and a criminal history check would be done and he would be disqualified from employment if he failed to “list on your application for employment ALL misdemeanors, felonies or other criminal offenses other than non-criminal traffic violations. In addition, if you have a prior criminal record, which has been sealed and/or expunged, you are required to disclose said record and where it occurred.” It doesn’t differentiate between convictions and arrests.
He also signed a “Code of Ethics,” which stated that Florida educators “shall make reasonable effort to protect the student from conditions harmful to learning and/or to the student’s mental and/or physical health and/or safety.” It also states that educators “shall self-report” within 48 hours “any arrests/charges involving the abuse of a child …” and “Shall self-report any conviction, finding of guilt, withholding of adjudication, commitment to a pretrial diversion program, or entering of a plea of guilty or Nolo Contendere for any criminal offense other than a minor traffic violation within forty-eight (48) hours after the final judgment.”
He was also required to report “any known allegation of a violation of the Florida School Code or State Board of Education Rules” as defined in Florida Statute 1012.795,” which involves the revocation of a teaching certificate, either temporarily or permanently, or the denial of employment by a School Board in any capacity for a number of violations, including being found “guilty of gross immorality or an act involving moral turpitude as defined by rule of the State Board of Education.”
Polk County Public Schools employs 13,000 people and is the second-largest employer in the county behind Publix.
Policy changes last year sparked by Haines City incident
Heid made some policy changes in 2022, after it was revealed that a special education teacher and basketball coach was hired at Haines City High School more than a year after he was found not guilty of sending a sexually explicit image to and kissing a student at Poinciana High School.
That teacher, Wayne McKenzie Ricks II, sexually battered a 16-year-old student at HCHS. Ricks was found guilty in June and sentenced last month to five years in prison and 10 years of probation upon his release. In February, Ricks was again charged by Osceola County with two counts of sexual battery on a child by a custodial figure. He awaits trial there.
The changes Heid made last year include:
- The superintendent “reviewing each affidavit of separation from previous employers pursuant to FS 1012.31,” which deals with personnel files, including discipline and investigations.
- Disqualifying a candidate “from employment in any position that requires direct contact with students if the candidate is ineligible for such employment under F.S. 1012.315, or if the candidate has been terminated or resigned in lieu of termination for sexual misconduct with a student.”
- Making people “ineligible for educator certification or employment in any position that requires direct contact with students if the person is on the disqualification list maintained by the department … is registered as a sex offender … or has been convicted or found guilty of, has had adjudication withheld for, or has pled guilty or nolo contendere to any of the felony offenses listed in F.S. 1012.315.
In mid-September, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd called Young “a classic predator, child predator. He’s a classic pedophile.” Judd added that Young told investigators he has human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which causes AIDS. “He is evil.”
Judd said their investigators uncovered rumors among students about Young.
“The kids that knew him from sports said, ‘He’ll give you stuff, but don’t let him touch you,’” Judd said. “That tells us one thing clearly: He has battered, possibly sexually battered, inappropriately touched other kids for that rumor to spread among them.”
The sheriff urged anyone who might have been harmed by Young to come forward and contact the Polk County Sheriff’s Office at 863-298-6200.
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