Thursday, May 24, 2018
Education

Teachers can still invite speakers, according to Hillsborough superintendent

TAMPA — With a slip of paper and no vote, Hillsborough County school officials tried Tuesday to end a monthslong controversy about guest speakers in the classrooms.

Superintendent MaryEllen Elia gave the School Board a brief set of staff instructions: "Teachers should carefully consider whether a guest speaker has the appropriate experience or credentials to promote a knowledgeable discussion, which helps students learn about the topic," the document said.

It asked teachers to notify their principals and work with speakers on their outlines. It reminded them that when it comes to the topic of religion, they must safeguard First Amendment protections against religious pressure.

In other words: Teachers should exercise caution. But there are no new restrictions on whom they can invite to class.

"I consider this a victory for our whole community," said Hassan Shibly, a lawyer and Muslim prayer leader whose appearance at a Steinbrenner High School history class brought the issue to the board's attention in January.

Critics of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, where Shibly is the Tampa director, came to School Board meetings by the dozens.

Some objected to CAIR, which was targeted but not indicted in a federal investigation that resulted in the conviction of a pro-Hamas fundraising group. Others said they feared Islamic leaders were trying to subvert the Constitution and impose sharia law.

But the crowd Tuesday consisted primarily of Shibly's supporters. They dressed in red — the color usually worn by anti-CAIR speakers to board meetings.

"Eliminating religious speakers will limit children's life experiences," said Chaikirah Johnson, who has a daughter at Blake High School. "Would you censor her, or tell her not to come to class or come to your public school, because she's Muslim?"

Terry Kemple, a leader in the anti-CAIR movement and a candidate for School Board, jokingly thanked the pro-CAIR speakers for wearing red.

Then he blasted the board for failing to thoroughly investigate the circumstances of Shibly's visit to Steinbrenner, and for disregarding complaints he and his supporters had raised.

"Representatives of an organization that has been linked to terrorism in a federal trial have been allowed into our classrooms to indoctrinate our children about the misconceptions about Muslims and CAIR's civil rights work," he said, asking for a policy to ban such a group.

Coming at the end of a long meeting, the matter got only a brief board discussion.

Member Stacy White, who has called for tighter regulation of speakers, thought the guidelines should impose limits on advocacy groups. But other board members praised Elia's work.

"No one is denying that terrorists wish us ill," said chairwoman Candy Olson. "And we don't want them in our schools. The issue is about how to keep our children safe while providing the best possible education."

Earlier in the meeting, board members spoke briefly about Urban Teaching Academy, the magnet program that is struggling to honor a promise to give its first class of qualified graduates scholarships to college.

Elia reiterated that she is working with the University of South Florida, Hillsborough Community College and the nonprofit Hillsborough Education Foundation to arrange the scholarships.

At last count, she said 25 students were affected, although some may no longer wish to attend college and return as inner-city teachers, which is a requirement for the grants.

Elia said she is looking at each student's case and working toward a solution.

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

Comments
A school resource officer allegedly told a gay student she would go to hell. Now he’s going away.

A school resource officer allegedly told a gay student she would go to hell. Now he’s going away.

The stares and whispers started on the first day of school more than two years ago, when Liv Funk and Hailey Smith silently declared their relationship in the halls of North Bend High School by holding hands.They knew coming out would be hard in the ...
Updated: 6 hours ago
What is a college’s responsibility to parents when a student is suicidal?

What is a college’s responsibility to parents when a student is suicidal?

CLINTON, N.Y. — In the days after her son Graham hanged himself in his dormitory room at Hamilton College, Gina Burton went about settling his affairs in a blur of efficiency, her grief tinged with a nagging sense that something did not add up.She fi...
Published: 05/24/18
Hillsborough teachers hope to get some, but not all of their raise money

Hillsborough teachers hope to get some, but not all of their raise money

TAMPA — Teachers in Hillsborough County came closer on Wednesday to reaching an agreement with the school district that would give them most, but not all of the pay they expected this past year.The deal, if it happens, will end a year-long conflict t...
Published: 05/23/18
Ridgewood High faithful recall ‘Pride of Pasco’ as school forges a new path

Ridgewood High faithful recall ‘Pride of Pasco’ as school forges a new path

NEW PORT RICHEY — The line snaked through the hallways and into the cafeteria, as the Ridgewood High faithful waited for their chance to secure a piece of the school’s 40-year history.They came by the hundreds — current and former students, staff and...
Published: 05/23/18
Words of wisdom from Class of 2018 on how school shootings have transformed them

Words of wisdom from Class of 2018 on how school shootings have transformed them

TAMPA — The pain of the Parkland shootings Feb. 14 was fresh on the minds of Hillsborough County’s graduating seniors when about 300 of them received an assignment. Write a 250-word essay on how decades of school shootings have touched y...
Published: 05/23/18
Sheriff: Weeki Wachee High student posted fake school shooting threat

Sheriff: Weeki Wachee High student posted fake school shooting threat

WEEKI WACHEE — A 16-year-old was arrested Tuesday on allegations that she created a fake social media post threatening to shoot students at Weeki Wachee High School, according to the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office.Deputies said the 16-year-old told...
Published: 05/22/18
Hillsborough school district, teachers move closer to pay deal

Hillsborough school district, teachers move closer to pay deal

TAMPA — The Hillsborough County School District and its teachers’ union moved closer to resolving their salary dispute during Monday’s negotiating session — but stopped short of reaching an agreement.The teachers, who have spent this school year work...
Published: 05/21/18
Updated: 05/22/18
Parents score victory in effort to make travel safer for Westchase students

Parents score victory in effort to make travel safer for Westchase students

TAMPA — Hillsborough County school leaders call it courtesy busing, but to Lauren Hawkins it’s more a matter of life and death.More students living close to their schools in the Westchase community used the Hillsborough school district’s courtesy bus...
Published: 05/21/18
Eckerd College hosts a royal celebration of its own

Eckerd College hosts a royal celebration of its own

A day after England’s royal wedding between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, St. Petersburg hosted a royal celebration of its own. Among the estimated 500 graduates to receive an Eckerd College diploma at Sunday’s graduation ceremony held...
Published: 05/20/18
Updated: 05/21/18

Hooper: SEL lends a solution to the increasingly toxic world of kids

An incident recently arose between students at Jesuit High School and Academy of the Holy Names that involved allegations of cyberbullying, homophobia, misogyny and assault.It only involved a fraction of the students at two of Tampa’s most prestigiou...
Published: 05/23/18