The Hillsborough County School District has a long history of being defensive when it needs to be proactive, and it repeated that bad practice this week in response to legitimate concerns about religious proselytizing in the schools.
For months, the district has fielded complaints that Christian student clubs or support groups have crossed the line, with adults using the cover of students' free speech rights to fold religion into what should be a secular public school environment. Not every complaint has hit the mark, and now the district is pushing back by misleading the public on what this debate is about.
The complaints here are not intended to minimize the great contributions that volunteers make in the schools. The issue is not the dollar value volunteers bring but the appropriateness of the conduct of some on the school campuses. The complaints are not silly or isolated, and critics are not calling — as one School Board member characterized it — for a "knee-jerk reaction." To the contrary, the district needs to show it is taking the complaints seriously and that the message is sinking in across the country's eighth-largest school system.
School Board Chairwoman April Griffin is right: This isn't about volunteers; it's about improper proselytizing. "Our children need to receive their religion at home. Period," she said. It's the district's obligation to ensure that this separation of church and state is maintained and that children in public schools are not forced to spend their formative years in a climate of undue influence.