More about the Idlewild controversy
Our coverage of Idlewild Baptist Church's work in the Hillsborough County schools struck a nerve among some district employees who want more details. In particular, they want to know more about Friday's letter from the Jewish Community Relations Council.
Here's the letter, which is a public record, along with this description of work the church and the district have discussed that can be done in various schools.
For more information about the church's work at Just Elementary, here is a doctoral dissertation by Lynette Henry, a former district employee and now an assistant professor at George Mason University.
Separate from the initial articule and a follow-up Gradebook post about the coffee coupons, the Times has published opinion pieces that both support and oppose the relationship.
As district officials pointed out repeatedly, Idlewild is not the only church that is involved in projects to help the school system -- there might be hundreds. One example is Relevant Church, an Ybor City congregation that has a partnership with Booker T. Washington Elementary School. Volunteers from Relevant have washed teachers' cars for free, served pizza at parents night and performed countless other acts to support the students and their families. As with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and other organizations -- for-profit, non-profit and sometimes religious -- the district encourages their contributions, as long as they do not cross legal and ethical boundaries about commercial promotion and religious recruitment.
While the term "faith based organizations" most often refers to churches, the district sent this response when asked if that is always the case:
"There are other types of faith-based organizations partnering with the district. We have Interfaith council, Ladies of the Philoptochos Society, Masonic Lodge, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, First Priority, Allegheny Franciscans, The Malayalee Association of Central Florida. We also have faith-based organizations that have facility agreements with the district, like Hindu Religious Center, The Malayalee Association, Sri Ayyappa Society of Tampa, Telugu Association of Florida."
On Friday afternoon, Ken Whitten, Idlewild's senior pastor, told the Times that after Monday's article appeared, he called Superintendent Jeff Eakins personally and asked if Idlewild was causing problems, and if perhaps the church should pull back from its activities. As he described the conversation, Eakins said "absolutely not" and assured him that the feedback he has received from the principal training sessions is overwhelmingly positive.
The school district is now closed for a week for the Thanksgiving holidays. However, the Times will submit a public records request for Eakins' written response, if he issues one, to the Jewish Community Relations Council.