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Private school remains open as paddler accused of abuse

The director of Bishop Academy II in Childs Park says she will lie low until the case is over.

By WAVENEY ANN MOORE
Published April 18, 2004

ST. PETERSBURG - Marva Dennard says her private school remains open despite her arrest last week on charges of aggravated child abuse.

Ms. Dennard, 64, who has headed Bishop Academy II in Childs Park since 2001, said she will step down from most of her duties until the case is resolved.

"The school will go on," she said.

"I'm not going to be there for a while. School is almost out, so I'll probably stay out for the rest of the year."

According to a police report, Ms. Dennard struck a 13-year-old girl with a paddle many times, bruising her left elbow and putting several welts on her face.

During an interview Thursday, Ms. Dennard, who says the school uses corporal punishment, admitted that she hit the child.

She said the girl attacked her after being sent to her office for cursing at the school's volunteer headmaster, the Rev. Don Gaskin of New Philadelphia Community Church, which is on school property at 3940 18th Ave. S.

"She hit me. She came to me because she had cursed Pastor Gaskin out. She had been cursing and disrespecting him. This was the second time. The first time was in the morning. This happened on Monday and she's been to school every day. Her mother said she deserved it," said Ms. Dennard, who was not arrested until Wednesday.

Aggravated child abuse is a second-degree felony. Punishment ranges from probation to 15 years in prison, said Mark McGarry of the State Attorney's Office.

Ms. Dennard said she believes in corporal punishment. She added that parents of children at Bishop Academy II sign a statement saying they accept it.

"Corporal punishment and child abuse are a serious matter," she said.

Pertaining to paddling, she said, "You have to use it as a last resort. When I paddle a child, I always call the parent and let them know, after and before.

"If they've done something really bad, I call them and they say do what I have to do."

She said she wants to help African-American children.

"My purpose is to keep them out of prison," said Ms. Dennard, whose school has 78 students, 30 of whom are on McKay scholarships, and a staff of 15.

The McKay Scholarship is Florida's largest voucher program for disabled or special-needs students.

A longtime member of Bethel Metropolitan Baptist Church, she spoke of clinging to her faith during her 12-hour stay in the Pinellas County Jail.

"There's a reason for this," she said of the experience.

"When the Lord is getting ready to bless mightily, the enemy is going to attack. ... My blood pressure went up. I tell you, I tell you, it was an experience. I would not wish anybody to go through that experience."

She said her wrists were swollen from the handcuffs because she tried to hide in the back of the police car. "I didn't want anybody to see me in that cruiser. It was humiliating. ... I just don't know, I just don't know how people go to jail. I just don't understand that," she said.

On her return home, dozens of sympathetic messages awaited her, said Ms. Dennard, who five years ago ran for City Council, a seat won by Rene Flowers. This year, she was named a finalist for business woman of the year by the Women's Council of the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce.

[Last modified April 18, 2004, 01:35:47]


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