Saturday, April 21, 2018
Education

Partisan speech violated Pasco schools policy, but blame remains unclear

LAND O'LAKES — Pasco school district policies were violated at Gulf High School when a volunteer from Organizing for America made partisan speeches to students in September, a district investigation found.

Exactly who broke the rules remains up for determination, as the district review uncovered conflicting versions of how events unfolded, district employee relations director Kevin Shibley said.

"There are some critical points in there where there is a lot of inconsistency from the testimony," he told the Pasco School Board on Tuesday evening after submitting his report.

Jennifer Dixon, the social studies teacher whose class received speeches favoring President Barack Obama, told Shibley that she instructed OFA volunteer Sandra Mullins to provide a strictly nonpartisan presentation on voter registration.

Mullins told Shibley that Dixon encouraged her to present the Democratic point of view, telling students that a Republican speaker would offer a counterpoint in the future.

Dixon invited GOP state committeeman Bill Bunting to present the Republican case — then Gulf High officials uninvited him, citing the district's policy on keeping partisan politics out of the classroom. The story drew national media attention, with conservative commentators objecting the Republicans weren't given equal time.

When the story first broke last month, there was some question as to whether the OFA volunteers misrepresented themselves as county elections workers in order to gain access to the campus. The school district investigation found that wasn't the case: The teacher knew in advance that the speaker was from Organizing for America, a project of the Democratic Party.

Shibley did not find any policy violations with OFA's appearance at seven other county high schools where it registered voters without any known incidents of partisanship. He did, however, note the tables being run by OFA "does raise the specter of impropriety."

These other voter registration efforts took place primarily on open house and school registration days.

A handful of people, including Bunting, came to the School Board meeting Tuesday evening urging swift action against any wrongdoing.

"If laws were broken, they truly should be punished," said Don Fletcher of Dade City. "That is the only message for students."

Board members said they would continue to support any further investigations by state agencies, that are still looking into whether election laws were violated.

Board member Allen Altman said he wanted to have district policy improved to ensure that similar situations do not occur again.

Superintendent Heather Fiorentino told the board that she recommended additional training for the staff in how to deal with elections and politics.

She stressed, however, that the main problem "occurred in one school, in one classroom."

Fiorentino said she would forward Shibley's report to the Division of Elections. She also planned to look into any other political-related complaints as they come in.

Comments
Tampa Bay students voice opinions on gun laws during school walkouts

Tampa Bay students voice opinions on gun laws during school walkouts

Nicole Leary and Taylor Redington stood outside St. Petersburg High School on Friday morning with parents and protesters who had gathered with bullhorns and signs. In a few minutes they would lead about 70 students on a walk to City Hall, joining oth...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Official: Shotgun in guitar case was used in school shooting

Official: Shotgun in guitar case was used in school shooting

FORT LAUDERDALE — A gunman who carried a shotgun in a guitar case opened fire Friday in a Florida high school, wounding one student before he was arrested on a day planned for a national classroom walkout to protest gun violence, authorities said. It...
Updated: 12 hours ago
Eakins: New ‘achievement zone’ would lift struggling schools

Eakins: New ‘achievement zone’ would lift struggling schools

TAMPA — Hillsborough County school superintendent Jeff Eakins is preparing to reorganize his cabinet — for the third time since 2015 — in an effort to coordinate programs at the district’s highest-needs schools.In an interview this week, Eakins descr...
Published: 04/20/18
Today: Area high school students to join national walkout in memory of Columbine

Today: Area high school students to join national walkout in memory of Columbine

High school students from both sides of Tampa Bay will commemorate the anniversary of the Columbine High School shootings on Friday, although in very different ways. In St. Petersburg, students from several schools will gather at noon at City Hall f...
Published: 04/20/18
Hillsborough targets bilingual teachers’ aides in latest school cuts

Hillsborough targets bilingual teachers’ aides in latest school cuts

TAMPA — The Hillsborough County School District, with a large and growing population of children from foreign cultures, is reducing the ranks of teachers’ aides who help them master the English language.Next year’s workforce will have about 164 fewer...
Published: 04/19/18
Pinellas to enlist Sandy Hook group in its quest for safer schools

Pinellas to enlist Sandy Hook group in its quest for safer schools

LARGO — Starting soon, Pinellas County public schools could be using a nationwide violence prevention program founded by families of those killed during the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in December 2012.The nonprofit group Sandy Hook Promise, with ...
Published: 04/19/18

Hillsborough targets bilingual teachers’ aides in latest school cuts

TAMPA — The Hillsborough County School District, with a large and growing population of children from foreign cultures, is reducing the ranks of teacher aides who help them master the English language.Next year’s workforce will have about 164 fewer p...
Published: 04/18/18
After Parkland, these students became activists. Will their movement last?

After Parkland, these students became activists. Will their movement last?

TAMPA — Sam Sharf’s parents thought he had the best position on the Plant High School football team. As back-up quarterback, he could impress the girls but rarely played enough to get hurt.Now a junior, Sharf is off the team so he can focus his energ...
Published: 04/18/18

Gannon University’s Ruskin growth includes $21 million addition

RUSKIN — Gannon University is experiencing some serious growing pains and as a result, SouthShore is going to see a big change in the landscape. When it opened its doors in 2015 as a satellite campus for its home school in Erie, Pa., Gannon occupied ...
Published: 04/17/18
Updated: 04/18/18

Enrollment growth anticipated for Pasco County charter schools, with two more to open in the fall

Most of Pasco County’s more established charter schools expect to see their student population remain stable in 2018-19.Even so, enrollment in the county’s charter schools is expected to grow by about 1,100 children — or nearly 25 percent — in the fa...
Published: 04/17/18