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Politicking gaffe at Pasco County school shouldn't be repeated

The Pasco County School Board got it right this week when it declined to expose Gulf High School students to partisan politicking from Republicans and Libertarians. Though the move was not popular with the GOP, the board correctly concurred with attorney Dennis Alfonso, who said the district shouldn't violate its own policies a second time just to make amends for an earlier gaffe.

In that instance, a representative of Organizing for America, a project of the Democratic Party supporting President Barack Obama's re-election campaign, gained classroom access because school office personnel believed the visit was to tout voter registration. Similar visits occurred at three other high schools, but in those instances, unlike at Gulf, speakers did not veer into partisan territory. Two other high schools correctly turned away the unauthorized visitors. Organizing for America later apologized for the Gulf High incident and discharged the volunteer.

To compensate for the pro-Democratic Party narrative, a Gulf High teacher invited Pasco Republican state committeeman Bill Bunting to provide an alternative view to her students. Over the next several days, Bunting was uninvited, reinvited and then uninvited a final time Tuesday by School Board members.

It is understandable for Bunting to feel short-changed about being denied equal access, but the episode stretched beyond the major parties when third-party representatives also asked to deliver their message to students.

"We are asking for our ideals to be heard in the schools as well,'' said Danielle Alexandre, treasurer for the local Libertarian Party. She doubles as a political consultant and represented a roster of tea party candidates during the primary election.

The pitch is disingenuous. Last week, Alexandre, who consults for Jason Sager, a Republican candidate for the Hernando County Commission, acknowledged taking down a political sign belonging to an opposing candidate. Despite claims to the contrary, she demonstrated little concern about equal access to political messaging in that episode.

If the district had acquiesced to Bunting and Alexandre, then who would be next? The Florida election ballot features a dozen presidential candidates, including standard-bearers for the Green Party, the Socialist Party of Florida, the Peace and Freedom Party of California, the Justice Party and the Objectivist Party. Do they all get a crack at talking to Gulf High School students?

More important than the fairness question is the issue of school security. Unauthorized volunteers gained access to classrooms in four Pasco County high schools, and that is where the Pasco School Board and district administrators need to put their focus. They wouldn't have to listen to claims of political bias if schools had been more vigilant in screening classroom visitors in the first place.

Politicking gaffe at Pasco County school shouldn't be repeated 10/03/12 [Last modified: Thursday, October 4, 2012 1:05pm]
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