Thursday, November 23, 2017
Education

Group wants School Board candidates to take a stand on Islamic organization

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TAMPA — When it comes to guest speakers, the Hillsborough County school district trusts teachers and principals to do what's best for students.

But when it comes to some organizations — say, the Council on American-Islamic Relations — some would like the schools to require parental consent.

Tampa 912 Project, an organization politically similar to the tea party, has invited School Board candidates to a forum tonight.

And the group has asked candidates to sign this pledge:

I recognize that the Council On American-Islamic Relations and other organizations that have been linked to terrorism by the FBI and in Federal Court are, at minimum, highly controversial.

As a candidate for Hillsborough County School Board Member, or if elected to the Board, I will do everything in my power to honor parents' rights to make the decision whether their children attend classes where representatives of these controversial organizations are invited to speak.

Kimberly Kelley, the group's vice chair, said CAIR was used only as an example, as it has been in the news this year.

After CAIR Tampa executive director Hassan Shibly met with world history students at Steinbrenner High School late last year, the School Board heard from dozens of people at its meetings. Many accused the advocacy organization of terrorist ties.

CAIR supporters denied any such ties and accused their opponents of anti-Muslim bigotry.

The board held a workshop in March but took no vote. Soon after, superintendent MaryEllen Elia issued a brief statement that called on teachers to choose speakers carefully and make sure the lessons were appropriate.

That move did not satisfy CAIR's opponents, led by School Board candidate Terry Kemple.

The Tampa 912 website says all but one of the 12 candidates have committed to attending the 7 p.m. forum, which will be held at American Legion Post No. 5, 3810 W Kennedy Blvd.

But incumbents Carol Kurdell and Doretha Edgecomb said their plans are tentative. They're already booked for a morning board workshop, an afternoon meeting and a public hearing on next year's budget at 5 p.m.

Candidate Michael Weston said he won't go because the event is not likely to deal with his issues of interest, such as teacher evaluations and opportunities for students who are not headed for college.

Shibly called the endeavor a waste of time and a witch hunt. He likened it to U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann's campaign against Huma Abedin, deputy chief of staff to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and a U.S.-born Muslim.

"It's trying to link all Muslims to terrorists through six degrees of separation," he said.

As for the pledge, the candidates' intentions are mixed.

Cindy Stuart said she will not sign because she does not sign pledges as a habit. "However, I am a parent and do think parents have rights to what is being taught to their children."

Kurdell and Weston said they will not sign. Edgecomb said she is leaning against it because she cannot fully support it, but appreciates the concerns some have about speakers.

Kemple, who is running for the same at-large seat as Kurdell and Weston, said he's signed it already.

Marlene Sokol can be reached at (813) 226-3356 or [email protected]

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