Joyce Hamilton Henry
Director, Mid-Florida Regional Office of the ACLU of Florida
One can clearly agree that the classroom curriculum is greatly enhanced by real life experiences of individuals and experts in the field. This prepares our students for the real world and a global society.
After months of pressure from a group of individuals led by David Caton, the Hillsborough School Board decided to maintain its existing policy which will allow guest speakers in the classroom. The Mid-Florida Regional Office of the ACLU of Florida was among several local organizations that supported the Council on Islamic Relations which was at the center of this controversy. Several local leaders representing a diverse range of perspectives, faith and racial/ethnic groups spoke passionately about the need to provide students with this valuable component to their learning experience.
It was clear that the attempt to change the policy was driven by Islamophobia and bigotry. The Hillsborough School Board rightly decided not to succumb to bullying tactics from Caton’s followers. Superintendent MaryEllen Elia revised earlier Guidelines which would have prevented advocacy organizations from speaking in classrooms. On March 30, 2012, guest speakers in the classroom were the only topic of a lengthy Workshop.
We applaud the Hillsborough School Board and Superintendent Elia for erring on the side of supporting healthy discourse in the classroom and for trusting the good judgment of the teachers guided by a policy that works.