NICEVILLE — Chaperoning a field trip is a right of passage for most parents, but Jason Harwell, a felon, was originally ineligible for the trip because he was convicted of a crime when he was 17.


After a long battle with the Okaloosa County School District, Harwell, now 36, appealed the decision and won.



He will be allowed to volunteer at his daughter Eleanor’s school with provisional approval for the rest of the school year, said Steve Horton, the School District’s assistant superintendent.


His journey for the right to volunteer began in September when he filled out an application. After Harwell said he had a felony, he was asked to be fingerprinted.


The School District received the fingerprint results Oct. 15, Harwell said.


According to Harwell, the district waited about 21 days to tell him the results.


Right before Thanksgiving break, someone from the community affairs office asked for more paperwork.


He was rejected shortly after.


"My girls, my daughters, I live for them, so for me to be be able to be an involved parent ... I’m going to jump on that opportunity," Harwell said.


After his rejection, he went in front of the School Board several times to plead his case.



Harwell created a Facebook page Felons are PARENTS TOO to document his journey. He wanted to use the page to advocate for and support other parents with similar difficulties.


"What started with me, potentially affects a lot of people in a positive way," Harwell said the decision to allow him to chaperone.


His efforts led the district to implement an appeal process for volunteers. He met with three human resource professionals at Central Administrative Complex in Niceville on Feb. 18. Also present was his foster father.


The HR representatives listened to him speak why he felt he should be allowed to participate.


"They listened to my side of the story," Harwell said.


Within 10 days, the HR team said his appeal was approved for the rest of the year.


"There’s a lot of people out there who have made poor decisions," Harwell said. "For them (the school district) to accept me is a gateway for others in low-income families that have criminal charges the opportunity to show ... that’s not who they are."


While Harwell said about 98% of the comments he has received are positive, there has been negative feedback as well.


"They’re concerned and I understand," Harwell said. "People change."