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Schools and churches and elephants: The week that was

Headlines from the week that was:

At least someone in Hillsborough schools remembers church and state

In what could be the next big controversy for a school district rarely without one, eyebrows are raised over the Hillsborough school system's involvement with church and Christian-based groups.

No question, community contributions like mentoring and volunteerism are a huge boon for schools. But some people have been rightly taken aback that mega-church Idlewild Baptist's contributions in Hillsborough also include training and motivational sessions for school administrators and shirts with Idlewild's logo for teachers.

And the eyebrows go higher: This week, superintendent Jeff Eakins voiced his support for First Priority Tampa Bay, part of a national Christian movement with the goal of helping students share the message of Christ through school-based clubs and events — like free pizza on "Jesus Pizza Day."

For anyone who gets the necessity of a strong, solid line between church and state, this raises questions. I've said it before: Imagine we were talking about a religion not our own, one with principles and beliefs we do not hold. Imagine the potential effect on kids who do not belong.

Apparently at least one School Board member gets the whole church-and-state thing. This week, the always outspoken April Griffin said involvement by religious organizations has to be open to all religious groups, must be without proselytizing, and has to have very clear rules.

Community support for education is a gift. But it's up to the people in charge of public schools to keep that line steady and make sure schools are inclusive for everyone in them.

The most interesting race in local politics is about to get more so

The already crowded campaign for a countywide seat on the Hillsborough County Commission is about to take it up a notch: John Dicks, lawyer, Democrat, blueberry farmer and former Plant City commissioner and mayor, is preparing to jump in.

Already running are former Commissioner and City Council member Tom Scott and former Hillsborough Democratic Party chair Pat Kemp and Brian Willis on the Democrat side, and Republican Tim Schock.

But that's burying the lead on why everyone's watching this one: Former Commissioner Jim "Not My House" Norman, once a powerful Republican on that very board, has high hopes for vindication and a comeback. If only everyone would quit bringing up that vacation home a millionaire political supporter bankrolled for his wife, a scandal believed to have ended his career in the state Senate.

Norman, who is formidable when it comes to knocking on doors and pressing the flesh, is betting shoe leather beats scandal.

But Dicks has his political chops and could be a hitch in Norman's plans for a sequel.

The elephants aren't coming! The elephants aren't coming!

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus announced it will end its elephant act and retire all its touring elephants a year and a half earlier than planned. Eleven elephants will join 29 already-retired ones at the 200-acre Center for Elephant Conservation in Polk County.

Much public sentiment for seeing these beautiful, intelligent animals "perform" has shifted. It's good news, even if you aren't an elephant.

Sue Carlton can be reached at carlton@tampabay.com.

Schools and churches and elephants: The week that was 01/15/16 [Last modified: Friday, January 15, 2016 6:50pm]
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