Jacksonville City Council candidate Alton McGriff Jr. indicated on his website he had graduated from FSCJ. He didn’t. [Archived screenshot of McGriff’s campaign page]

A Jacksonville City Council candidate falsely claimed to be a community college graduate on the campaign trail.

In the weeks leading up to the District 1 race, Democrat Alton McGriff Jr. touted his education as “a proud graduate of Florida State College of Jacksonville, where he achieved high honors and made an impact upon the hearts of all who met him,” according to his campaign website as of last month.

His education is listed as “Florida community college” on a News4JAX candidate questionnaire published last month on the TV station’s website.

But FSCJ had no records of McGriff earning a college degree from the school, said FSCJ spokeswoman Jill Johnson.

When The Tributary asked him about the discrepancy, McGriff, who declined interview requests, said in a text message, “It seems to be a misunderstanding, I graduated with a highschool diploma with honors from FSCJ.” His website was later updated to say, “Alton is a graduate of Florida State College of Jacksonville, where he earned his high school diploma.”

But McGriff also didn’t get a high school diploma from FSCJ’s charter school either, Johnson said. Instead, McGriff appears to have earned his GED.

McGriff texted The Tributary a picture of a 2013 Florida Department of Education certificate for a “high school diploma”. It is signed by a GED administrator.

A photo Jacksonville City Council candidate Alton McGriff Jr. sent of a certificate for a high school diploma. McGriff said he graduated with “high honors” from Florida State College at Jacksonville. [Provided by Alton McGriff Jr.]

“The information I provided was for my diploma,” McGriff texted Monday, declining to confirm whether it was a GED. “Regardless of if I graduated with a GED or High School diploma, I encourage young people to finish what they started.”

He didn’t explain why he claimed to have achieved “high honors”.

McGriff, a real estate agent, faces retired journalist Ken Amaro, a Republican, on the March 21 ballot. Early voting is currently underway.

Amaro declined to comment for this story.

By Monday night, McGriff’s educational history on his website was revised a second time and now clarified McGriff “attended First Coast High School and completed his high school education through an academy that was located on Florida State College at Jacksonville Downtown campus (which is now closed).”

According to FSCJ records, McGriff had been enrolled in the Adult Basic Education program from Dec. 18, 1997, to Dec. 15, 1999. At some point, he switched to the GED Preparation program, or the high school equivalency program, at Pathways Academy, Johnson said.

Pathways was a charter school run by FSCJ helping at-risk students graduate that closed in 2014 when the college wanted to focus on higher education. Johnson confirmed McGriff did not receive his high school diploma at Pathways but said only the FDOE could verify if McGriff received his GED through the charter school.

The FDOE declined to comment. 

“We cannot provide these records or confirm diploma status without written consent from the individual,” spokeswoman Cassie Palelis said.

Duval County Public Schools also declined to give information on McGriff’s education records.

McGriff’s website alluded to his personal story as someone who “understands the challenges that accompany achieving the American Dream and how to push past discrimination, malicious acts, and injustice to accomplish goals and provoke change.”

Voters in Jacksonville’s City Council District 1 will vote between Alton McGriff Jr. and Ken Amaro in the March 21 election. [The Tributary]

Gabrielle Russon is an award-winning journalist based in Orlando. She covered the business of theme parks for the Orlando Sentinel. Her previous newspaper stops include the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Toledo...