What about the coaches?
A complaint alleging illegal activities on the part of a representative of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes did not just point the finger at self-styled campus minister David Gaskill.
It also named -- sometimes with photographic evidence -- coaches who either invited Gaskill to lead the students in prayer or participated with them. Those named in the complaint include Freedom High School football coaches Todd Donahoe and Cedric Smith; Tampa Bay Technical High School wrestling coach Edward Bayonet, Freedom girls basketball coach Laura Pacholke, Wharton High School wrestling coach David Mitchell and Middleton High School baseball coach Jim Macaluso.
Will the district investigate these coaches too?
They will not, district spokeswoman Tanya Arja said Friday. Instead, they will be given training -- as will all district employees who work with outside volunteers -- in how to make sure students' rights are not violated under the First Amendment's Establishment Clause. The director of Parent and Community Involvement, MaryLou Whaley, said the Freedom From Religion Foundation is very happy with the district's response.
Gaskill slipped through even though Eakins and School Board Chairwoman April Griffin said in January that the district would conduct a thorough audit of its relationships with faith-based groups, stemming from questions about Idlewild Baptist Church and First Priority, and make sure those relationships were proper under law and district policy.
At the time, Griffin also said the Tampa Bay Times could attend an interfaith gathering of religious leaders who met to discuss religion in the schools. Then she changed her mind, saying they would be more comfortable talking without press around. On Friday, she said it would be great if a reporter could attend another such meeting in the future. We'd love to, we said.
The Times asked the district on Friday if a reporter could attend one of the upcoming training sessions for coaches. Chief of Staff Alberto Vazquez said we can, and the newspaper will receive a schedule when it is available. We also asked permission to attend Monday's training session for staff and volunteers from the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. The answer to that request, from Superintendent Jeff Eakins, was no.
More side notes from the controversy:
* Rabbi Richard Birnholz and Jewish Community Relations Council Chairman Jonathan Ellis both told the Times they are encouraged by the actions the district has taken so far to protect students' civil rights. Birnholz said he is writing an essay for his synagogue's May newsletter that will expound on the issue. He wants to make sure his congregants are aware of both their rights under the law, and the rights that Christian organizations have to free speech. We will publish that essay when it is available.
* Things have not gone so smoothly between the district and the Atheists of Florida. That organization sent the district a request for information several months ago, which the district answered. The organization's president, Judy Adkins, followed up with an email to Eakins, asking more detailed questions. She said she did not get a response.
Eakins said he was not aware of the pending request, that it might have been overlooked and that he would investigate to see what happened.