School yard bullying can take many forms. So Hillsborough County school superintendent MaryEllen Elia and School Board chairwoman Candy Olson are to be commended for standing up to the forces of bigotry and ignorance. The pair on Tuesday rightly defended Steinbrenner High School history teacher Kelly Miliziano, who recently invited a Muslim speaker to her classroom, much to the narrow-minded consternation of local political gadflies, conservative activist Terry Kemple and David Caton, executive director of the Florida Family Association.
Miliziano asked Hassan Shibly from the Tampa chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations to speak to her class on world religions. Representatives of other faiths also have given presentations to the class. But Kemple and Caton ham-handedly equated Shibly's appearance with supporting terrorism. Their absurd complaint suggested that students in a college-level, Advanced Placement class on world religions would not benefit from a visit by a Muslim, whose faith is shared with nearly one out of every four people worldwide.
Facing down a vocal but ill-informed crowd at the School Board meeting, Elia and Olson aggressively defended Miliziano, stressing the educational importance of exposing students to various cultures and religious beliefs. Elia and Olson have more faith in Hillsborough County students to think for themselves than do the disciples of intolerance and demagoguery.