Tuesday, November 21, 2017
Education

Hillsborough's April Griffin seeking third school board term

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TAMPA — Six months after giving up her candidacy for Hillsborough County Commission, April Griffin said Friday that she wants to run for a third term on the School Board.

Griffin said she had intended to leave politics, but changed her mind because of reports of continued problems in exceptional student education.

"I seriously believed that the direction we were going on ESE issues was the right direction," she said.

"The board has been given numerous reports that we were moving in a positive direction. But based on allegations from the employees, from the trainers, the board was misled."

There was no response from the district, as spokesman Stephen Hegarty said Griffin's announcement was a political matter.

Four trainers for the transportation department recently signed a memo listing problems in that department, some affecting the safety of medically fragile children.

They described a driver who did not know about a child with a "red alert" status, which requires employees to be aware of a medical condition and how to respond to an emergency. They alleged they are sometimes told not to document mistakes.

The district is investigating all the allegations. But Griffin said, "I'm not comfortable with the way the investigation is going either."

Griffin, who has not yet filed to run, said she means no disrespect to the nine other candidates who entered the race thinking the seat was open. "I just don't know if someone else can step into the fray and pick up where I am at right now," she said.

A 10th, Charles Brink, pulled out Wednesday, saying he wants to focus on his advocacy organization and the gubernatorial campaign of Charlie Crist.

Griffin, a board member since 2006, has clashed off and on with superintendent MaryEllen Elia, who is now in her ninth year.

Griffin became chairwoman in November 2012, shortly after the revelation of two ESE student deaths that year: Isabella Herrera, who stopped breathing on a bus; and Jennifer Caballero, who drowned in a pond behind Rodgers Middle School.

A federal lawsuit is pending in the Herrera case, with attorneys alleging safety practices in ESE are so lacking that it amounts to discrimination. The district denies any discrimination and says the suit is a negligence case that belongs in state court.

Lawyers for the Herrera family want to reopen discovery to include depositions of the four transportation employees. The district is opposing the extension.

The race for Griffin's countywide seat, meanwhile, could now lose two more candidates.

Russell Patterson, an ESE teacher at King High School, said Friday he is stepping aside.

"I fully support April," he said, adding that he shares her concerns about ESE. "I would not have run if I was going to run against her."

Henry Ralph Underwood II, a culinary arts teacher at Hillsborough High School, said he has not decided. Asher Edelson, Stacy Hahn, Alison McGillivray Fernandez, Dipa Shah and Randy Toler said they are still running. There was no word from John Evon or Paula Meckley.

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

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