Thursday, June 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: Congress should ban splitting kids, parents

Editorial: Congress should ban splitting kids, parents

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Editorial: A court victory for protecting Florida’s environment

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A Tallahassee judge has affirmed the overwhelming intent of Florida voters by ruling that state lawmakers have failed to comply with a constitutional amendment that is supposed to provide a specific pot of money to buy and preserve endangered lands. ...
Published: 06/18/18
Updated: 06/20/18
Editorial: Trump should stop taking children away from parents at the border

Editorial: Trump should stop taking children away from parents at the border

Innocent children should not be used as political pawns. That is exactly what the Trump administration is doing by cruelly prying young children away from their parents as these desperate families cross the Mexican border in search of a safer, better...
Published: 06/17/18
Updated: 06/19/18

Editorial: ATF should get tougher on gun dealers who violate the law

Gun dealers who break the law by turning a blind eye to federal licensing rules are as dangerous to society as people who have no right to a possess a firearm in the first place. Yet a recent report shows that the federal agency responsible for polic...
Published: 06/17/18
Updated: 06/18/18
Editorial: Encouraging private citizens to step up on transit

Editorial: Encouraging private citizens to step up on transit

The new grass-roots effort to put a transportation package before Hillsborough County voters in November faces a tough slog. Voters rejected a similar effort in 2010, and another in 2016 by elected officials never made it from the gate. But the lates...
Published: 06/15/18
Editorial: 40 years later, honoring remarkable legacy of Nelson Poynter

Editorial: 40 years later, honoring remarkable legacy of Nelson Poynter

Forty years ago today, Nelson Poynter died. He was the last individual to own this newspaper, and to keep the Times connected to this community, he did something remarkable. He gave it away.In his last years, Mr. Poynter recognized that sooner or lat...
Published: 06/15/18

There was no FBI anti-Trump conspiracy

The Justice Department released Thursday the highly anticipated report on the FBI’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email probe and other sensitive issues in the 2016 election. It is not the report President Donald Trump wanted. But there is enough i...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/15/18

Voter purge may be legal, but it’s also suppression

The Supreme Court’s ruling last Monday to allow Ohio’s purging of its voter rolls is difficult to dispute legally. While federal law prohibits removing citizens from voter rolls simply because they haven’t voted, Ohio’s purge is slightly different. T...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/15/18

Editorial: Free rides will serve as a test of whether the streetcar is serious transportation

Who wouldn’t jump at the chance to ride for free?This fall, the TECO Streetcar Line eliminates its $2.50-a-ride-fare, providing the best opportunity yet to see whether the system’s vintage streetcar replicas can serve as a legitimate transportation a...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/15/18

AT&T and the case for digital innovation

A good way to guarantee you’ll be wrong about something is to predict the future of technology. As in, "One day, we’ll all …" Experts can hazard guesses about artificial intelligence, driverless cars or the death of cable television, but technologica...
Published: 06/14/18