The dream was fixed in Clarence Taylor Park-Rainy’s mind: him seeming to float across a stage the way every grad seems to in cap and gown, collecting his diploma, and his mom in the audience smiling, whooping, so happy she’s in tears.
But then graduation came and went Friday night at Union Grove High School in Henry County and it was nothing of the sort: no cap, no gown, nothing dreamy about it.
The 19-year-old sat it out, watching as a member of the audience as his classmates floated across the stage. A mere spectator — and a sorely disillusioned one at that.
He’s now trying to clear his name and school record after he was suspended in March and arrested by Henry County police on allegations he tried to sell prescription painkillers at school. A tribunal found him guilty even though two witnesses who claimed he tried to sell the drugs recanted. The grand jury didn’t indict and the district attorney dropped the charges.
None of it makes any sense to Park-Rainy or his family, who say he’s never been in trouble before.
Park-Rainy finished high school at Patrick Henry Academy. He didn’t want to attend Friday’s graduation ceremony at the alternative school because he was angry and embarrassed by its association with students with discipline problems.
“There’s just no way to explain the humiliation he’s been through and that I’ve been through,” said his mother, Paula Lewis. “If the witnesses recanted and the district attorney dropped the charges, why won’t the school clear his record?”
Henry County Schools spokesman John Hardin said Monday that the district could not comment on the case because of the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.
Park-Rainy admitted showing tablets of Tylenol III to a student on the bus but not offering to sell them. He took the tablets to school because he had oral surgery planned that afternoon. When Park-Rainy was first accused of trying to sell them, he denied having the pills, which a school resource officer found after he searched him.
That hurt his case. But the killing blow, said Michael Tafelski, an attorney with Georgia Legal Services Program, who is representing the student, was his statement, made out of frustration during questioning by the officer. “He told him, ‘If I was going to sell drugs, I wouldn’t sell them at school,’ ” Tafelski said. “The tribunal hearing officer took that as an admission of guilt.”
Another one of Park-Rainy’s attorneys, Shelly Anand, said the hearing officer at his tribunal said she found him guilty based on two written statements by witnesses who claimed Park-Rainy attempted to sell them drugs. But those witnesses recanted their statements during the hearing, saying they were coerced into making them, Anand said.
Park-Rainy was found guilty in the tribunal of possessing an illegal drug and selling it.
District Attorney James Wright III then presented his case to the grand jury, charging Park-Rainy with two counts — illegal possession of a controlled substance and illegal possession of a controlled substance in school — but the grand jury did not indict him, and Wright dropped the charges.
“I do not know the reason [the charges] were no-billed,” Wright said in a phone message.
After the DA tossed the case, GLSP attorneys filed an appeal with the Georgia Department of Education and asked the school district to vacate its ruling so Park-Rainy could graduate with his Union Grove classmates.
“We informed the School District that the charges were no billed and asked them to consider settling by vacating the charges,” Anand said in an email. “The attorney for the district agreed to talk to the school board, as he also thought that reaching a settlement was better than having the school district spend more money on attorney’s fees for the appeal process. However, the attorney got back to us and said that the Henry County School Board wanted to proceed with the appeal process without an explanation as to why.”
So now Park-Rainy is preparing to take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test for the second time. The first time he took it, he flunked.
Park-Rainy said Monday that he’s still holding out hope that he wins his appeal, passes the test, clears his record and reaches his dream.
“My grandfather was in the Air Force,” he said. “That’s an inspiration to me.”