Hillsborough School Board votes for 'secular' school calendar

WMNF Drive-Time News Friday

After nearly 2 hours of debate last night, the Hillsborough County School Board unanimously approved their School Calendar beginning next August that will NOT include religious holidays.


However, they will continue a traditional day off for students to attend the state fair.


The vote ends an issue that has hung around the school board for the last year and a half, and has been fueled in part by Christian conservatives nationwide who have bombarded the School Board that it would be sacrilegious to remove Good Friday and the Monday day after Easter as School Holidays .  That out of town attention was raised by School Board member Jack Lamb (roll tape#1 o.q.”  the rest are local”)


Good Friday, the Monday after Easter and the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur will now not be recognized as School Holidays. 


The School Board intended to make similar changes a year and a half ago.  But intense pressure – much of it stemming from a focus on the issue on Bill O’Reilly’s national radio and cable television programs – led School Superintendant Mary Ellen Elia to back away from such a move.


But the issue became relevant again this year, in part because of Tallahassee.  Under a new state laws, Hillsborough can not begin the school before August 20th.  That start date, later than in recent years, limited the number of holidays possible in the fall semester.


Members of the public addressed the School Board last night.  Terry Kempel said the move was unfair to Christians (roll tape#2 o.q.”or other groups”)


Citizen Lisa Domini equated taking away religious holidays with eroding the basic freedoms of the U.S. (roll tape#3 o.q.”I will”)


But there were others who thought the School Board had done the right thing. 

Jim Shinberg Jr. said he would like to have seen Yom Kippur listed as a regular day off, but thinks the situation has been handled fairly towards all religions (roll tape#4 o.q.”approach my problem”)


David Caton is the Executive Director with the Florida Family Association.  That group also targeted the Hillsborough School Board  with calls and e-mails to change their decision.  He rolled off a list of some of the biggest School Districts in Florida who do take  Good Friday Off   (roll tape#5 o.q.”being on the calendar”)


Last year members of the Hillsborough Muslim community argued to try to have parity with the Christian and Jewish communities and have their own Holiday – Eid al Futr – be registered as a school holiday.


But the Muslim community has not actively campaigned on the issue this year.  That was reiterated once again last night by the Council on American Islamic Relations Florida spokesman and WMNF programmer Ahmed Bedier  (roll tape#6 o.q.”for us all”) 


Newly elected School Board Member April Griffin mentioned that she and other Board members received hateful e-mails slamming Muslims.  And she also took a shot at those criticizing the Board (roll tape#7 o.q. “Veterans Day off”)

A considerable amount of time during the discussion revolved around the question of giving students days off to attend local fairs.  That is, the just concluded Hillsborough County Fair for students in the western portion of the County – and the Strawberry Festival for the Eastern part. 


Ultimately, they decided that more study was needed.  They voted 5-2 to keep those days as School Holidays.


That prompted a response from School Board member Candi Olson.  She said that she had a lot of respect for the State Fair and The Strawberry Festival…However (roll tape#7 oq..”very unwise’)


The Chairman of the Florida Fair Authority, Sandy MacKinnon, told the Board that removing what is called “Fair Day” would cost the Fair $125,000 in revenue.  Another official said around 63,000 attended the Fair on Fair day, vs a regular average of 20,000.




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