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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Huddle Touch must get training before returning to Hillsborough schools

Middleton High School Principal Kim Moore is seen in this video endorsing the work of Huddle Touch, a central Tampa ministry that seeks to "share the love of Jesus Christ" and wants to assign a missionary to each school, where they would work with administrators.

Middleton High School Principal Kim Moore is seen in this video endorsing the work of Huddle Touch, a central Tampa ministry that seeks to "share the love of Jesus Christ" and wants to assign a missionary to each school, where they would work with administrators.

Huddle Touch, a central Tampa ministry that is the latest to come under fire from the American Civil Liberties Union, has been ordered into training before it can send volunteers to Hillsborough County public school campuses.

A meeting took place Friday between the organization's leaders and district staff, including Chief of Staff Alberto Vazquez.

"The meeting outlined the policies and expectations of our partnering organizations," said Tanya Arja, spokeswoman for the district, in an email message. "This group is not allowed on our campuses until they go through district training. There will be a mandatory training the week of May 23rd for the organization and volunteers associated with this group."

Arrangements are being made for other volunteers to deliver food that the organization had offered during an athletic event this week, Arja added.

Pastor Pastor Jeffery Singletary, who heads up the effort, declined to discuss any of the issue specifically, but said he looks forward to getting guidance at the training.

"We're really just doing our part in being part of that village, and we want to be good neighbors and good partners," he said.

The ACLU alerted Superintendent Jeff Eakins to issues surrounding Huddle Touch on May 10, the same day the School Board discussed other controversies involving Christian organizations.

Questions have been asked this year about First Priority, Idlewild Baptist Church and, most recently, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. The district has looked into all of these relationships. For the most part, district leaders have said, they are legal and appropriate. In the case of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, one adult was banned indefinitely from the schools and the rest were ordered into training before they could return.

At issue are two distinct but related federal mandates: The First Amendement's Establishment Clause, which does not allow government -- including a school district -- to establish an official or preferred religion; and the Equal Access Act, which protects middle and high school students who wish to gather at school to pray or discuss their faith.

Eakins and his staff have spread the word that adult volunteers must keep their contributions secular; and that faith-based, student-led organizations must truly be student-led, and not dominated by adults.

Huddle Touch is a ministry of Exciting Central Tampa Church, which began as an offshoot of Lutz-based Idlewild. As explained in this Adopt A School document on their website, the organization seems to have a missionary on every school campus who will work directly with the administration.

The letter from the ACLU alleges, additionally, that principals of urban high schools Blake and Middleton have endorsed the organization in video messages.

[Last modified: Tuesday, May 17, 2016 5:49pm]

    

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