Advertisement
  1. Education

Caton followers take up cause to ban Islamic speaker from school

Published Jan. 11, 2012

TAMPA — True to his word, a conservative activist continued his campaign Tuesday protesting a Muslim leader's visit to Hillsborough public schools.

Supporters of David Caton responded with a flood of emails to the Hillsborough County School Board — 2,705 at day's end, according to district spokesman Stephen Hegarty.

The speaker, Hassan Shibly, said he was saddened but not surprised at the firestorm.

And, while school officials for the most part have backed Steinbrenner High School teacher Kelly Miliziano completely in her choice of speakers, that feeling is not unanimous.

"I am researching the issue and trying to learn a little bit more," said school board member Stacy White. White has asked the district for details about how speakers are recruited and screened, what input parents have, and whether the Council on American-Islamic Relations, where Shibly is executive director, should be considered a political organization.

Caton's Florida Family Association contends that CAIR and Shibly support extremists, and wants the visits stopped.

The controversy illustrates the challenge of teaching topics as sensitive as the influence of Islam, even though the official state curriculum calls for high school students to learn about the world's major religions.

"Religion in class is a hot enough topic," White said. "But this one also has a political twist."

Member April Griffin, who defended Miliziano's actions, said attempts to satisfy critics would be problematic.

"We're walking a very, very slippery slope if we try to counter the opinions of the speakers that come into our classrooms," she said.

Miliziano has declined to comment. According to Hegarty, Miliziano has invited speakers who represent a multitude of faiths that include Christianity.

Shibly, a 25-year-old lawyer who took over at CAIR last summer, said his program at Steinbrenner was not political, but more of a primer on Islam.

"We've done this presentation dozens of times," he said. "It was great. The students thanked me, shook my hand and said I cleared up some misconceptions they had."

He told them most terrorists are not Muslims and most Muslims are not terrorists. "A lot of them are shocked when they hear that," he said.

And he sympathizes with Miliziano, who is now a target of Caton's movement as well.

"She is a mature, dedicated teacher and I have a lot of respect for her," he said. "She's trying to give the kids the best education possible."

Caton's campaign, Shibly said, is in keeping with others fighting Islamic influence in popular culture. "They actually fear mainstream Muslim leaders more than they fear the extremists," he said.

Interestingly, both Caton and Shibly drew parallels between the Hillsborough controversy and the one surrounding The Learning Channel's reality television show All-American Muslims, which follows the lives of five contemporary U.S. Muslim households. Caton's organization convinced advertisers to leave the show.

"The flavor of this one is not as strong as All-American Muslim," Caton said. "But it's close."

Shibly, in turn, said Florida Family Association objected to the show largely because, rather than exploring Islam's radical tenets, it showed Muslims who were relatable to middle America.

"You're darned if you do and darned if you don't," Shibly said. "And if you don't engage in outreach, people say you are reclusive."

Marlene Sokol can be reached at sokol@tampabay.com.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Sen. Travis Hutson presents his Job Growth Grant Fund legislation to the Senate Education Committee on Nov. 12, 2019. The Florida Channel
    The original version would have targeted charter schools only.
  2. A flag supporting President Donald Trump flutters near the University of Florida's Century Tower before an Oct. 10 appearance on campus by Donald Trump Jr. and Kimberly Guilfoyle. A controversy over the political nature of the event has led to calls for the impeachment of Student Body President Michael C. Murphy, who helped set it up. Courtesy of Chris Day
    A push to oust Student Body President Michael Murphy comes after an email surfaces, suggesting he worked with the Trump campaign to bring a political speech to campus.
  3. Odessa Elementary School in Pasco County has grown to 1,126 students in fall 2020. Pasco County school district
    At 1,126 students, Odessa is larger than 10 of the district’s 16 middle schools, too.
  4. Construction workers have prepared the skeleton for what will become the music and art wing of Cypress Creek Middle School in Pasco County. Some Wesley Chapel parents are fighting the rezoning plan that would reassign their children to the school.
    A roundup of stories from around the state.
  5. The Pasco County School Board meets in August 2019. JEFFREY SOLOCHEK
    Having won a concession relating to rising juniors, some Wesley Chapel families seek more changes to a proposed reassignment plan.
  6. A school bus travels the early morning streets. One Marion County elementary school will change its start time because some parents say they can't get their kids to school before the first bell.
    A roundup of stories from around the state.
  7. Tony Hart wanted to volunteer at his children's school but was stopped by a criminal background screening. Before that, he said he was making a positive impact at Adams Middle School in Tampa. MARLENE SOKOL  |  Tampa Bay Times
    The school district never considered Tony Hart a volunteer. But he was heavily involved, earning praise from the principal.
  8. Gov. Ron DeSantis greets local officials at Dunedin High School on Oct. 7, 2019, part of a swing around the state to announce his plan to boost starting teacher pay in Florida to $47,500. MEGAN REEVES  |  Tampa Bay Times
    A roundup of stories from around the state.
  9. Students from Curlew Creek Elementary in Palm Harbor attend the school's Veterans Day program in 2016. The Pinellas County school system remains open for the holiday. DOUGLAS CLIFFORD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Some campuses in the Tampa Bay area have no classes on the national holiday to honor U.S. military veterans, while others stay open.
  10. Pasco County's 2020 teacher of the year finalists are Jennifer Dixon, Joel Santos Gonzalez and Patty Hanley. Pasco County school district
    The winner will find out with a surprise visit later in the school year.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement