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23-Year-Old Masquerades as 14-Year-Old at School

May 12, 1987

MILPITAS, Calif. (AP) _ Rodney Brown, a new student at Rancho Milpitas Junior High School, quickly earned a reputation as a popular, enthusiastic student with a perfect attendance record.

But school officials and fellow students learned to their astonishment that the happy eighth-grader was really a 23-year-old dropout named Rodney Turner, who had returned to school because he had learned the value of an education.

″I figured, why not start at the bottom and work to the top and prove to yourself that you can do it,″ Turner said. ″You need an education to get any kind of work. You have to start somewhere, and you got to want it more than anything in the world.″

″He fit right in,″ said Principal Charles Gary. ″He looked like he was about 14.″

″He was just like one of the guys,″ said classmate Allan Valmonte, 13. ″I was really surprised when I found out I had been sitting next to a guy almost twice my age.″

Officials uncovered the ruse after three months, by accident.

Turner, who moved to the San Francisco Bay area from Atlanta five years ago, was living in a rented room in a Milpitas house, working odd jobs and depending on the aid of others when he hit upon the plan for returning to school last January.

Milpitas, a community of about 43,000 people, is about 20 miles southeast of San Francisco.

″I really was nervous the first couple of days,″ he said in a recent interview. ″But I didn’t have any problems. I started talking to people about things, like sports and lesson plans for the day, and I forgot about the age difference.″

At the same time, Turner said, ″I wondered day by day, ‘Are they going to find out?’ But it was worth it for the education.″

School officials finally learned of the charade, because they wanted to place him in a special education class to help him with math, reading and writing. A school official went to his home to discuss it with his sister, who had signed a paper as his guardian.

The sister was in Los Angeles, where she since has moved, and officials called the police.

″We thought we might be dealing with a case of child neglect,″ Gary said.

School officials and police met with Turner in mid-March, but he stuck to his story that he was 14. Officer Tom Borck said he recognized Turner from seeing him around town.

″I never had any problems with him, and he was always polite ... but I knew he was somewhere around 20 years old,″ Borck said.

″In a last-ditch effort to find out who the heck he was, I took him to his house,″ he said. ″The people there recognized him as Turner and said he was 23.″

After Turner was taken to police headquarters for further questioning, a record check showed two outstanding petty theft warrants. He since has pleaded guilty to both charges and served short jail terms. He was placed on three years’ probation for each charge.

″Sometimes you get with the wrong people and they try to lead you,″ he said.

Despite the trouble, Borck believes Turner is sincere about his academic ambitions.

″He was crying when we took him from the school,″ the officer said. ″He really wants an education.″

Turner, who never was formally expelled, said he plans to enroll in regular adult education classes in the fall.

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