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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Hillsborough School Board candidates weigh in on religious holidays

7

August

During Wednesday's Hillsborough School Board forum sponsored by the Westchase Government Affairs Committee and World of Westchase, the northwest Hillsborough community's newsmagazine, candidates for District 1 and District 7 were asked about boundary shifts, budget cuts and failing schools.

One question focused on the board's controversial decision to adopt a secular calendar for 2007-08 and if that policy should be changed. Here are the candidates' responses:   

District 7 incumbent Carol W. Kurdell, 63: I would not reverse that policy because it’s fair to everyone. No matter what your religion is, you have the opportunity to take whatever days are necessary to celebrate your religion without interrupting other classrooms.

District 7 candidate Jason Mims, 55: I have no problem with the calendar as its been recommended by the superintendent and approved by the school board, except that we waste a day of education for children because they do not show up at school. The part of the policy that I would ask the superintendent to relook would be the part that says what can we expect next year and if we need to make a change based on the input from the community.  My vote with the school board, if it were to come to the school board, would be to have in place days off where we know students are not going to show up.

District 7 candidate Stephen Gorhamm, 29: Our calendar will never be secular providing winter break is on the calendar. Christmas coincides with winter break as does Jewish holidays and so many other holidays. What I believe we need is a academic centered calendar, one that understands the essence of the academic year such as we do in college. We don’t just arbitrarily create a calendar that’s adverse to student achievement. We need to make sure that a calendar reflects the best opportunity for students to achieve. I also believe we need to understand the community’s wants and needs. We have such a resilient community. If we go to the community and say that a day off is going to be adverse to their student’s achievement, this community is not going to say we want it off. They’re going to say, ‘OK, we understand. Our kids are going to be in school.’ That’s what we need to continue doing. Let’s put the emotion on the shelf. Let’s put our kids first. And create a calendar that’s solid and gives them the best opportunity to achieve.   

District 1 candidate Dave Schmidt, 59: I think we have to do what’s best for student achievement and student safety. I’ll admit right now: I’m Catholic. I would prefer to have Good Friday off. It’s our holiest day. But let’s just look at the past history of this last Good Friday where it was a disaster in terms of students not coming to school. Teachers, bus drivers, students waiting at the bus stop. They could have been killed. We were a muck that day as a district. It has to be common sense combined with what’s best for the students, not what’s politically correct.

District 1 incumbent Susan Valdes, 43: I must remind everyone that we are constitutional officers. We have to abide by the constitution. The constitution clearly states that you cannot set a date for a religious holiday. So on the advice of our school board attorney, he said the only way that we could possibly do this and not (face) other repercussions was if we were to do a study. Do I personally agree with it? No. I am also Catholic and I hold certain holidays very dear as well. But as my role as a school board member, I have to remember that I am a constitutional officer. So having said that, I followed the attorney’s advice. This year’s episode was, in my opinion, a protest. Next year, we won’t have a problem because it falls under spring break. The following year will be an issue because the calendar is off again. We will wind up having a study that will tell us what the trends are and we’re doing this not just for Good Friday. We’re doing this across the board for all of the holidays so then we know what our community values. And based on that data, if we are data driven as the superintendent says, we can then set a calendar that upholds our family values but ensures a good academic calendar as well.

-- Rodney Thrash, Times staff writer

[Last modified: Wednesday, May 26, 2010 11:32am]

    

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