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April Griffin will leave Hillsborough School Board when term ends in November

By Marlene Sokol, Times Staff Writer
Published: February 9, 2018 Updated: February 9, 2018 at 03:39 PM
April Griffin, campaigning here for a third term on the Hillsborough County School Board, announced Wednesday that she will not seek a fourth term this year. [Times files (2014)]

TAMPA ó April Griffin, who served 12 sometime turbulent years on the Hillsborough County School Board, is stepping down when her term ends in November.

Griffin announced her decision just hours after publicly accusing fellow board member Melissa Snively of feeding information to a Facebook site that makes a practice of attacking the school board and district.

But Griffin said heat she has taken from her online critics had nothing to do with her decision, which came after consultation with her husband and children.

"My family wants me back," she said.

Griffin, 48, said she will leave education and politics for another opportunity that she declined to disclose.

"I have done my duty and feel itís time to move on," Griffin wrote in a statement Thursday that listed her accomplishments, and declared, "if I ran again, I would win."

This isnít the first time Griffin has talked of walking away from her at-large seat. She did the same before the 2014 campaign and ran briefly for the Hillsborough County Commission.

Griffin said she changed her mind about leaving the School Board after she was visited by four transportation workers who were concerned about lingering hazards to special needs children.

Conditions were supposed to have improved after 2012, a year that saw two disabled children die while in the care of school employees or immediately after.

Jennifer Caballero drowned in a pond behind Rodgers Middle School. Isabella Herrera stopped breathing while on a school bus, did not receive immediate medical care and was nonresponsive when she arrived at a hospital. Both families sued the district, which wound up paying more than $1 million in settlements.

But the group of employees convinced Griffin that, despite assurances from the top brass, more work needed to be done.

Griffin ultimately was among the four School Board members who voted in early 2015 to fire Superintendent MaryEllen Elia and replace her with Jeff Eakins, who holds the job now.

Those decisions were met with harsh criticism from Eliaís allies in business and political circles. When she steps down in November, Griffin will be the first of the four members to do so.

A product of the Hillsborough public school system, Griffin had a difficult childhood and dropped out of high school, later earning a general equivalency diploma.

She became active in Democratic politics while in her 20ís. Years later, while serving on the School Board and raising her two sons, she received a bachelorís degree from Eckerd College.

While known for her sometimes combative style, Griffin said she always aimed to show tolerance and respect to constituents with diverse viewpoints.

She stood up to religious conservative leaders such as Terry Kemple of Valrico, who ran unsuccessfully for the School Board, on issues involving LGBT rights and separation of church and state.

She advocated for more resources to be spent on what is known in education as "social emotional learning" to help children succeed despite challenges they encounter outside the schoolhouse doors.

Griffin offended some black community leaders in late 2015 when she accepted the chairmanship that, by tradition, would have gone to member Doretha Edgecomb.

In her statement Thursday, hereís how Griffin described that episode: "Ended the round-robin selection process for chair of the School Board."

Griffin also said she "woke up, shook up and broke up the good olí boy network" in the large school district.

Six candidates have filed for the seat that Griffin will vacate: Scott Hottenstein, Robert A. Pechacek, Bill Person, Kelso Tanner, Jessica Vaughn and Henry "Shake" Washington.

Also up for re-election are Sally Harris, another of the four who voted to fire Elia and hire Eakins; and Melissa Snively. Harris faces opposition from Stacy Hahn while Snively is being challenged by LaShonda "Shon" Davidson.

Contact Marlene Sokol at (813) 226-3356 or [email protected]