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Offering $1,000 Reward, Group Battles School Board over Muslim Outreach

April 1, 2012 - 6:00pm

The Hillsborough County School Board isn't backing down in the face of an ongoing campaign to halt Muslim speakers from appearing at local campuses.

At least not yet.

A 2 1/2-hour board workshop on Friday concluded with a general sense that current district policies are adequate.

But the Florida Family Association wants school officials to slam the door on the Council on American-Islamic Relations, whose local director has addressed classes at Steinbrenner High School.

FFA believes that CAIR is a "terrorist" group that has no business at Steinbrenner or any other campus.

The accompanying video clips of public testimony at earlier school board meetings echoed those concerns.

Hassan Shibly, the local CAIR director, said FFA's comments "feel like we're taking a step back in time to days when people used school board meetings to promote racism against African-Americans.

"It has been very hurtful that, for the past few months, I have been subjected to a character assassination campaign with disgusting and defamatory lies being spread about me personally and my community.

"CAIR is a threat to these people because we counter the bigoted message they wish to promote that Islam and Muslims are evil."

Shibly called it "very inappropriate and sad to see that school board meetings have been used as a platform by anti-Muslim extremists to promote bigotry and hatred of Islam and hard-working American Muslims."

FFA is offering a $1,000 reward to anyone with direct information about future campus speaking engagements by CAIR.

FFA director David Caton, who said his group's email inquiries have been blocked by the district, told Sunshine State News he has received "several" positive responses from the public and some teachers.

"People are watching. They don't like the negative attention," Caton said.

Elaborating on the current, open policy, School Board President Candy Olson stated that "tapping into the resources of our community enhances the educational experiences of our students and enables teachers to bring lessons alive with guests who bring valuable knowledge, skills or experiences to our students."

Adopting Olson's pronouncements, or any other policy, would require a formal board vote. None has been scheduled.

While predicting that the board will not change course, Caton insisted that his group will press ahead.

Arguing that "controversy drives change," Caton said FFA is prepared to hold a "Sharia Symposium" at Steinbrenner to "publicize and educate people about the issue."

"We'll make an example of this school," he vowed.

Contact Kenric Ward at kward@sunshinestatenews.com or at (772) 801-5341.

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