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CAIR fight fails to change school board policy

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Published:   |   Updated: March 19, 2013 at 02:57 AM
TAMPA -

Hillsborough County School Board members decided Tuesday evening they don't need to adopt any new guidelines covering guest speakers in the classroom because the district has policies already in place.

The decision, which came without a vote, was a blow to those who have rallied against the Council on American-Islamic Relations for weeks at multiple school board meetings.

"I consider it a victory for the community," said Hassan Shibly, executive director of the local CAIR group, whose presentation to a Steinbrenner High School world history class last year later drew objections.

"I think the issue is over," Shibly added. "If they want to keep hating, that's fine."

During previous board meetings, the anti-CAIR forces, decked out mainly in red, have said the group is linked to terrorism and was trying to brainwash students in the classroom.

On Tuesday, 11 people spoke in favor of allowing groups of all views to be allowed into the classroom. Many wore red just like their opponents had for weeks.

Three people spoke out against CAIR at the meeting and urged the board to adopt more stringent policies to keep students safe.

But in the end, board members accepted a memorandum from Superintendent MaryEllen Elia that includes no ban on advocacy groups. Elia had proposed such a ban, but some board members said it might keep groups such as the PTA or NAACP out of the classroom.

Elia's policy does urge caution when recruiting a speaker to talk about religion. She mentions that faculty from local colleges and universities can be excellent sources for such speakers.

If a teacher drafts a religious leader to speak, "remember, however, that they have commitments to their own faith," Elia wrote.

"Be certain that any guest speaker understands the First Amendment guidelines for teaching religion in public education and is clear about the academic nature of the assignment."

Board member Stacy White, a frequent critic of CAIR, was not happy that the ban on advocacy groups was removed from the policy statement.

"We clearly do not have a policy as it relates to guest speakers in the classroom," White said. "I see no issue with us as a board doing our duty to put forth a policy that would help offer our teachers guidelines to navigate this very tricky issue."

Board member April Griffin talked about how many different groups come to the United States for the freedoms the country offers.

"People come to this nation because we offer something to them that many other countries don't offer. We have something that no other nation in the world was founded on," Griffin said. "I will stand up to anybody who tries to change it."

Larry Golbom, one of the speakers who addressed the board, urged the members to do nothing.

"The solidarity and intolerance I saw at the last meeting truly astonished me," Golbom said. "I was frightened by what I saw. I witnessed a mob mentality in my community. Don't succumb to fear. Our leaders can't be afraid of what is right."

Terry Kemple, an outspoken critic of CAIR and a candidate for school board, blasted the board for ignoring the wishes of hundreds of people who had appeared to tell the board of their fears about a group he said supported terrorism.

"It's in your power to end this controversy," Kemple said. "All you need to do is address the issue."

The board rejected the call from CAIR's critics for firmer action.

"I think they'll come back," Chairwoman Candy Olson said. "But that's the end of it."


rshaw@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7999

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