CAIR President Hassan Shibly
TAMPA, Fla. --"I hope today we reach an informed decision that supports a rich education of tolerance and respect. We do not want students to be scared," says Hillsborough School Board member Candy Olson in her opening remarks.
Hillsborough school board members discussed the district's classroom speaker policy during a workshop. They say the goal is to inform students.
"Just explained what we were learning at the time," says 10th grader Austin Ransdell about the president of the Council on American Islamic Relations classroom visit to his World History Class last November at Steinbrenner High School. Austin says Hassan Shibly cleared up misconceptions about Islam.
"That all Muslims are terrorists or not like the U.S. is false. Most do not feel that way," Austin tells school board members.
Olson tells Austin she's surprised Hassan Shibly, CAIR's executive director, said "most" and not any when referring to Muslims who are terrorists or anti-American.
But critics say it's not the topic of Islam that's the problem, but the school's choice for a speaker. The district has received more than 4,000 emails opposing CAIR's classroom visit.
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"What we want [is a] policy that insures no one from an organization linked to terrorists speak at our school," says Terry Kemple with the Education Coalition a group opposed to CAIR's classroom visit.
Board member Stacy White says stricter, clearer rules for selecting speakers are needed. White says, "There are organizations that are not good sources for speakers in the classroom."
White told the board he does not want to take autonomy away from teachers and principals. "We as a board can offer guidance through policy."
Most board members say the policy in place works. It allows teachers and principals to approve speakers based on students' educational needs and curriculum. Teachers will monitor speakers to make sure they stay on topic.
School board member April Griffin says she doesn't want to craft policy because of bullying. Griffin says, "I consider what we are doing is fine."
Board member Candy Olson offered a clarification of the district's existing policy on classroom speakers for the board to vote on at a future board meeting. Meanwhile, critics say they will regroup and plan a new strategy to keep controversial speakers out of the classroom.