Sunday, February 25, 2018
Opinion

Ruth: Miss Manners, this School Board leader needs you

Where's Miss Manners when you really need her? And if you should come upon the doyenne of etiquette can you please have her send a strongly worded missive of scorn in the general direction of Hillsborough County School Board chairwoman April Griffin?

It is no secret you're unlikely to find the prickly Griffin sipping girls' night out cosmopolitans with school superintendant MaryEllen Elia. To put it kindly, the two women do not laugh at the same jokes.

So maybe that explains why Griffin failed to copy Elia on a letter she never should have written when the chairwoman decided to butt into a dispute over a Plant High School student tennis player's residency eligibility to compete.

The case involved a now-16-year-old who lived in the Blake High School zone but who wanted to play for the Plant girls tennis squad. As if by magic, the family established a residence in a neighborhood to qualify her for the Plant team, even though school district investigators determined that the family actually slept in the abode about as often as Judge Crater.

Hillsborough County in particular has become sensitized to these sorts of Three Card Monte residency games, especially since football powerhouse Armwood High School was forced to vacate its 2011 Class A championship after revelations that a number of players had fudged their residency status to get on the team.

What school wants that sort of embarrassment? What team members would want their season's victories tarnished or voided because someone tried to play fast and loose with the rules?

After the Florida High School Athletic Association determined the student would be ineligible to play but could remain a student at Plant, Griffin fired off a letter on School Board stationery to an FHSAA official complaining about how the matter was handled.

Because Griffin was endeavoring to influence an FHSAA policy issue, it might have been polite to copy Elia, her fellow board members and other school district officials on her letter. But she didn't.

And Griffin wanted to have it both ways, writing that she was acting in her capacity as School Board chairwoman, only to later note she was contacting the official on a personal, unofficial basis. Who wrote this thing? Sybil?

In any event it would be understandable if FHSAA officials regarded the letter as an effort by Griffin to attempt to use her exalted position as chairwoman of the School Board to influence an administrative decision. That's not only wrong, but dense, too.

Griffin has suggested that the process for granting or denying eligibility status to students is not consistent, which might be another way of saying the process allows for some discretion depending on the circumstances of each student's situation.

In the tennis player's case, investigators were unable to determine that the family was actually living in the Plant zone. Interviews with the parents were conducted. Several hearings were held. It would appear the process worked as it should. Griffin just didn't like the result.

School Board members rarely inject themselves into routine administrative matters, especially issues related to athletic eligibility.

As it turned out, Griffin's bureaucratic gate-crashing didn't change the FHSAA ruling. It only served to bolster her reputation as a meddlesome busybody, and not a very decorous one at that.

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