Saturday, April 21, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Legislature must tighten boarding school rules

What does it take in Florida to shut down a rogue boarding school operator who has willfully evaded state regulation for more than a decade? St. Lucie Circuit Judge Robert Belanger has given Alan Weierman another 16 months to run the unregulated Southeastern Military Academy despite advice from state child protection staff and reports of injuries and bizarre punishment. Once again, the state of Florida — this time the courts — has failed to protect some of its most vulnerable citizens.

Belanger's ruling after a two-day trial last month was disturbing enough given the school's sorry track record. Over the past decade, the Department of Children and Families has investigated the school at least 25 times and found that children have been punched, kicked, slammed into hard objects and choked to unconsciousness. The judge offered these inappropriate observations from the bench: "Abuse sometimes is in the eye of the beholder" and, "Sometimes, putting shackles on kids might scare them straight."

All of that in defense of a man who surrendered his state license in 2001 under pressure from the Department of Children and Families and then took refuge under a nearly 30-year-old state law that privatized regulation of religious group homes. But even that porous and superficial regulatory structure — detailed extensively in a recent series by Tampa Bay Times reporter Alexandra Zayas — ultimately took exception to Weierman's operation and booted the school out in 2004.

Since then, Weierman has operated the Southeastern Military Academy in a blind spot of state law where boarding schools, once open, are required to register with the state Department of Education and work toward accreditation by an academic organization within three years. Yet, Weierman still has not received accreditation for the school.

None of that seemed to matter to Belanger, making it all the more imperative for the Legislature to change state law.

Defenders of the status quo have argued that since Zayas' series was published late last year, the private agency that oversees religious schools, the Florida Association of Christian Child Caring Agencies, has approved reforms and the DCF has exercised its discretion by cracking down on rogue schools where abuse is alleged. One school profiled in Zayas' series, where girls were routinely placed for hours in solitary confinement and forced to listen to religious sermons, decided independently to shut down.

None of that is enough when an operator such as Weierman can continue without any regulation and a judge is so cavalier about the abuse of children. The Legislature created this mess when it allowed a porous regulatory structure for those who make their living taking care of minors. The 60-day legislative session starts Tuesday, and it's up to House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz to see to it that this gets fixed.

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Editorial: New Cuba president is chance for new start

Editorial: New Cuba president is chance for new start

For all the symbolism, Raul Castro’s handoff of the Cuban presidency this week amounts to less than meets the eye even if his handpicked successor, the Communist Party functionary Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez, is the first person not named Castro to le...
Published: 04/20/18

Editorial: A missed chance for open primary elections

The Florida Constitution Revision Commission did a lot of things wrong this week by combining unrelated or unpalatable provisions into single amendments that will appear on the November ballot. It also wasted an opportunity to do one thing right. The...
Published: 04/20/18
Editorial: When they visit Nature’s Classroom, kids are right where they belong

Editorial: When they visit Nature’s Classroom, kids are right where they belong

The Hillsborough school district planted a fruitful seed with the opening of Nature’s Classroom five decades ago on the cypress-lined banks of the Hillsborough River northeast of Tampa. • The lessons taught there to some 17,000 sixth graders each yea...
Published: 04/20/18

Editorial: Equality pays off on Southwest Flight 1380

The passengers of Southwest Flight 1380 can be thankful that, 33 years ago, the U.S. Navy took the lead on equal opportunity.Capt. Tammie Jo Shults was piloting the flight from New York to Dallas on Tuesday when an engine exploded, blowing out a wind...
Published: 04/19/18
Updated: 04/20/18
Editorial: Why single-member districts would be bad for Hillsborough commission

Editorial: Why single-member districts would be bad for Hillsborough commission

Anyone looking to make Hillsborough County government bigger, costlier, more dysfunctional and less of a regional force should love the idea that Commissioner Sandy Murman rolled out this week. She proposes enlarging the seven-member board to nine, e...
Published: 04/19/18
Updated: 04/20/18
Editorial: Improving foster care in Hillsborough

Editorial: Improving foster care in Hillsborough

A new foster care provider in Hillsborough County is poised to take over operations in May, only months after its predecessor was fired for what was alleged to be a pattern of failing to supervise at-risk children in its care. Many of the case manage...
Published: 04/18/18

Another voice: Back to postal reform

President Donald Trump is angry at Amazon for, in his tweeted words, "costing the United States Post Office massive amounts of money for being their Delivery Boy." Yet in more recent days, Trump has at least channeled his feelings in what could prove...
Published: 04/17/18
Updated: 04/18/18
Editorial: Congress should protect independence of special counsel

Editorial: Congress should protect independence of special counsel

A bipartisan Senate bill clarifying that only the attorney general or a high-ranking designee could remove a special prosecutor would send an important message amid President Donald Trump’s attacks on the investigation into Russia’s inter...
Published: 04/16/18
Updated: 04/17/18
Editorial: Don’t fall for Constitution Revision Commission’s tricks

Editorial: Don’t fall for Constitution Revision Commission’s tricks

The Florida Constitution Revision Commission has wasted months as a politically motivated scam masquerading as a high-minded effort to ask voters to improve the state’s fundamental document. The commission on Monday added amendments to the Nove...
Published: 04/16/18
Editorial: Redner’s court win on medical marijuana sends message

Editorial: Redner’s court win on medical marijuana sends message

Florida regulators have done far too little to make voter-approved medical marijuana widely available for patients suffering from chronic illnesses. A circuit court judge in Tallahassee ruled last week there is a price for that obstruction, finding t...
Published: 04/15/18
Updated: 04/16/18