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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Is the DOE anti-Christian?



Could the Florida Department of Education, widely viewed as a bastion of conservative ideology for more than a decade, be guilty of religious discrimination? A North Florida woman says yes. And she's backed by a high-powered, high-profile Republican attorney.

Karen W. "Kay" Stripling, an evangelical Christian from Marianna, says she was targeted by DOE employees during a "Bush witch hunt" of faith-based providers, according to a lawsuit filed in late June and obtained by The Gradebook. In 2003 and 2004, the suit says, department officials refused to pay Stripling's company, Read & Lead, the more than $200,000 it owed, and then told state and federal investigators Stripling mishandled public money. The suit says those statements led investigators to threaten her with a federal indictment and the possibility of fines and prison time - a threat the suit says was dropped when investigators determined DOE's assertions were wrong.

The department awarded Read & Lead a grant in 2002 to help hundreds of high school dropouts in rural North Florida read better, get GED diplomas and find better jobs. But in the lawsuit, Stripling, 48, says some department officials resented the involvement of faith-based companies in educational activities and subjected them to unwarranted audits. The suit also says Stripling discovered through a public records request that DOE lost most of her files, and that DOE employees had "managed to insert into Plaintiffs' official DOE file numerous press clippings concerning Christian activism in public education," including pieces that criticized former Gov. Jeb Bush's support for private-school vouchers and mocked creationism.

For more, see the story in tomorrow's St. Petersburg Times.

- Ron Matus, state education reporter

[Last modified: Tuesday, May 25, 2010 9:20am]


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