Saturday, April 21, 2018
Education

After a parent complains, Dunedin High School stops promoting student volunteer opportunity for Obama group

DUNEDIN — The principal at Dunedin High School has stopped promoting a student volunteer opportunity tied to President Barack Obama and the Democratic Party after a parent complained.

Pinellas schools spokeswoman Melanie Marquez said Tuesday that during daily announcements about volunteer opportunities for Bright Futures Scholarships last month, principal Reuben Hepburn mentioned that students could help the group Organizing for America in support of Obama. The announcements began after the Democratic group contacted the school seeking volunteers, Marquez said.

Many organizations that give out scholarships credit students for hours they spend volunteering with political campaigns, Marquez said.

"The mistake there was that (Hepburn) promoted one specific organization that supports one specific candidate," Marquez said. "It's okay to say, 'Hey, you can volunteer for political campaigns.' But it's not a good idea to focus on one organization."

After the parent complained, an area superintendent spoke to Hepburn and explained that the announcements were not appropriate "even if the intent there is to offer the volunteer hours. He understands that that was a mistake," Marquez said.

In a separate situation in Pasco County, Organizing for America volunteers have gone into schools to talk about voter registration. At four schools, the volunteers were allowed in, apparently because school officials thought they were from the Supervisor of Elections Office. Two schools turned them away because they didn't have appointments.

Although most discussions with students concerned the importance of voting, a volunteer who went to Gulf High School made a pro-Obama speech that school officials now say was not appropriate. Officials are investigating.

Times staff writer Jeffrey S. Solochek contributed to this report. Curtis Krueger can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8232.

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