Eakins: Acknowledging a Christian group's contributions does not equal an endorsement
Seeking once more to clarify the district's position on faith-based partnerships -- as well as his own -- Hillsborough superintendent Jeff Eakins submitted this guest column to all of the area's newspapers.
The fine points:
1. He and his staff are committed to being inclusive and respectful to students from all backgrounds.
2. With resources scarce, the schools need help from the nonprofit sector, including faith based organizations.
3. The district, in light of recent controversies about Idlewild Baptist Church and First Priority Tampa Bay, is reviewing those partnerships, one by one, to make sure they comply with the law and are appropriate for a diverse public school district.
4. As for his Jan. 12 remarks to First Priority Tampa Bay, an organization that promotes "the hope of Christ in every student," Eakins did not mention the organization by name in the op-ed piece. But, speaking generally, he defended the message he gives all organizations that help the district further its goals of helping students.
"Regardless of the audience, my message has remained constant and clear: a strong student-centered school culture is guided by eight principles, which include mission and vision, procedures and routines, promoting and modeling great character, service learning, student leadership, conflict resolution, mentoring, and a school-based behavior management plan," he wrote.
"Granting non-discriminating access does not constitute endorsement of a group's ideology. Acts of charity, compassion, and partnership from responsible business, nonprofit, and faith-based community groups are essential. All partnerships that unbiasedly serve our schools and students are welcome, needed, and appreciated."
As the district takes a close look at its relationships, civil rights organizations are monitoring the landscape as well. The Athiests of Florida said it has submitted a public records request, asking for copies of any complaints the district has received about religious organizations on campus; and evidence that adults who work with them on campus have signed the district's guidelines for volunteering.