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Mom goes online in fight against school crowding

The issue of school overcrowding came home to Lisa Sibley this year.

Her son Travis' fifth-grade class at Lake St. George Elementary School swelled from 26 to 34 students after the annual 10-day count.

Sibley, 33, who lives in Palm Harbor, began to worry.

"Up until this year, I was happy with the school system," Sibley said. "But now, they don't have a science or social studies textbook for each child."

Sibley had read a newspaper article about how people were not responding to the issue of crowded schools. As a busy working mother and part-time student, she didn't have time to organize petition drives in schools or neighborhoods.

Instead, she decided to get active in a high-tech way.

With the help of friend, David Kirchinger, she assembled a World Wide Web page called the Florida Education Petition. It encourages people online to "voice your concerns and suggestions to remedy overcrowding in the schools." It has a box in which people visiting the Web page can make comments.

On Monday, the Florida Legislature will meet in a special session to discuss school crowding. Sibley plans to fax and e-mail copies of all responses to lawmakers.

But not everyone has applauded Sibley's efforts to get involved in the democratic process.

Last week, she sent 160 House and Senate members an e-mail about her efforts. The e-mail response she received from Rep. Jerry Melvin, R-Fort Walton Beach, stunned her.

"I don't feel use of this method to coerce people to get involved serves any purpose," he wrote. "Had people been interested they would have acted on their own since there has been no lack of publicity concerning the matter."

Sibley said: "Coerced? I haven't twisted anyone's arm. I was appalled that this is what is representing us in Tallahassee."

Melvin is chairman of the House Committee on Education Innovation.

Another lawmaker, Rep. Luis Rojas, R-Dade County, was very supportive.

"He called and said he wants to hear from the public," Sibley said.

The Web page has been up for about a week and a half, and so far, Sibley has received about 65 responses.

"The reason I chose this approach is that there are many people who don't have time to write letters or go to meetings due to their busy schedule. This way, they can just sit down any time, day or night, and express their opinion," she said.

"If we don't make noise and speak out loudly, they (lawmakers) aren't going to do anything," Sibley said. "We have to speak."

The address for the Florida Education Petition is http://