The workshop about speakers in Hillsborough
5:30. Just got back to the office. Believe it or not, no one is completely sure what the next step is. Gonzalez, the lawyer, needs to take a closer look at the document Olson drafted. At some point, either Elia or Olson will likely start the process of a public hearing. No one is happy. We will know more next week.
4:20 Here's where things stand, and forgive us if the legal points seem fuzzy... we're waiting for the meeting to break up to get clarification.
But it's like this:
Candy Olson hoped to wrap this matter up with a brief statement -- even more concise than the policy by submitted last month by Superintendent MaryEllen Elia -- that explains how the district handles outside speakers. Teachers choose the speakers carefully, the principal can help, everybody acts appropriately, etc. She was hoping that, with a nod of heads, the board could agree that this is how it's done. But board attorney Tom Gonzalez said if it at all resembled policy, they would need to vote on it in a public hearing that is properly noticed under Florida law, and that the public would be allowed to speak. Their other option was to let Elia's guidelines stand. But some board members -- mainly Griffin -- think those guidelines are too restrictive. After a long discussion, they more or less (we're saying more or less because they did not vote) agreed to put Olson's policy through the hearing process. Now they are talking about contracts.
Conservative activist Terry Kemple said he thought the whole thing was a joke.
3:50 They're now debating whether they need to vote on the document. White doesn't think it goes far enough. "If this comes to me in a business meeting, I'll vote no because I'm not going to sit up here and support the staturrs quo."
3:40. Susan Valdes said the district should not discrimate against anybody, but the district also has to look out for the safety of children, and she deferred the question to the board attorney. Carol Kurdell and Jack Lamb said they should trust the teachers and principals. April Griffin said she was adamant that the board does not need to enact a policy, and that the rhetoric of recent weeks -- comparing CAIR to a pedophelia organization, for example, is "absolutely disgusting." Olson agreed that the board does not need a new policy.
Instead, she distributed a brief description of what the district already does - inviting speakers, sometimes with the help of district staff, and making sure they do not advocate or engage in politics.
3:30 Doretha Edgecomb pointed out that, with the controls some are proposing, the late Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. would not be allowed in a class. Neither, for that matter, would Edgecomb, who was a strong advocate for civil rights.
3:I5 Among White's points: 1) Contrary to some descriptions, Islam was the only religion represented at the Steinbrenner class. 2) In his opinion, Shibly never should have been speaking about stereotypes. 3) Being an imam does not qualify Hassan Shibly as an academic expert on Islam. 4) Organizations need to be screened, he said, adding, "CAIR has a cloud of suspicion and controversy lingering over it."
3:00 Five principals and assistant principals, including Brenda Grasso of Steinbrenner High School, just spoke to the value of speakers in the schools. Now Stacy White is making a speech, pointing out that the issue is different when it comes to religion.
Things are calm at the Hillsborough County school district headquarters.
Board chairman Candy Olson opened the meeting by saying, "sometimes we get a request that causes us to review the way we do things, and that's a good thing. She said she hopes the district can continue to give students an informed education that encourages tolerance and respect. She also acknowledged that the meeting is happening at a time when many Muslims are gathered for weekly communal prayers. "I was not aware of that when I scheduled the meeting," she said. "I certainly didn't intend to exclude them, or anyone."
She then began calling experts to speak, beginning with .... a 16-year-old student at Steinbrenner High School.
Austin Ransdell, a sophomore, was in the world history class that was visited by Hassan Shibly on Nov. 29, touching off the current controversy over the Council on American-Islamic Relations, of which Shibly is the local executive director.
Austin, seated next to his mother, told the board that Shibly told the class about the roots of Islam, about Mohammed and the pilgrimage to Mecca, and outlined the basic principles of the religion.
"We asked him about his beard and about the hat that he wore," Austin told the board.
When asked if he felt he was being indoctrinated, he answered, "No, Ma'am."
He said the content was similar to what he learned in textbooks. "He just came in and pretty much explained what we were learning at the time," he said. Shibly also spoke about stereotypes against Muslims. Austin also said, in response to a question by board member Stacy White, that Islam was the only religion for which they had a speaker.