Fla. School For Deaf And Blind Allowed Felons To Work Campus Construction Jobs

Sunday, March 25th 2007, 2:59 pm
By: News On 6

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. (AP) _ The Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind allowed felons to work on campus construction jobs during the past two years, according to interviews and documents.

Many of the workers were allowed on campus even though they had failed background checks, school employees complained.

The felons included a man convicted of domestic battery and selling cocaine; a man convicted of aggravated assault; and a man convicted of offenses including trafficking in hallucinogens, battery on his spouse and domestic violence, The St. Augustine Record reported Sunday.

Current and former staff members started complaining to school and state officials about nine months ago, saying school officials didn't show concern for student safety, the newspaper said.

School president Elmer Dillingham said he believes the administration made acceptable decisions. He said the felons were supervised by a full-time off-duty police officer and only hired because the school could not find a felon-free construction crew to work on emergency construction projects.

``I don't think, if you go to any public school in this state, that you'll find a better security system,'' he said.

School districts are required by the 2005 Jessica Lunsford Act to run background checks on workers and most visitors. The checks include a search of crime databases and a fingerprint scan.

The law was named for 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford, who was taken from her bedroom and found buried just yards from her home. A convicted sex offender was sentenced to death for her killing.

The newspaper reported former school Police Department employee Howard Jones wrote a then-anonymous letter complaining about the felons to school officials in May 2006. He also sent it to state officials, who asked the school's board of trustees' chairwoman about the felons.

The security problems ``deal primarily with the admissions to campus of contract and construction workers for ... numerous projects that ... occur every year on different areas of the campus,'' Jones wrote in the letter.

Jones was still working with the campus police force when he wrote the letter.

There was no immediate response Sunday to calls seeking comment from the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind and the Florida Department of Education.