The sponsor of Florida’s landmark test-based teacher evaluation bill SB736 , Sen. Steve Wise, R-Jacksonville, breathlessly argued that if his bill didn’t pass, “kids would be irreparably damaged.” Lets apply Wise’s standard to a real-world, real children example. Consider yesterday’s Tampa Bay Times story about the Dunedin charter school which has been taken over by Scientologists.
DUNEDIN — One Friday afternoon in December, leaders of a tax-funded elementary school called Life Force Arts and Technology Academy shepherded students into a Scientology church in Tampa’s Ybor Square.
The children were fed candy and pizza, given Scientology books and DVDs, and shown a performance of a play written by Scientology’s late founder, L. Ron Hubbard. Some posed for photos with Santa Claus in front of a silver Scientology cross.
It was, as Life Force leaders had promised, a Christmas party, the school’s first since a small Clearwater company called Art of Management had been hired to reorganize the school as it filed for bankruptcy.
Though company president Hanan Islam was also executive director of the World Literacy Crusade, a California organization that promotes Scientology study methods, she had reassured parents then that her group would “not push any religion” at the school.
But as Life Force parents stood in one of Scientology’s newest churches, dedicated last year by Scientology’s worldwide leader, David Miscavige, some felt their trust had been betrayed.
Some parents and former teachers at Life Force, which receives about $800,000 a year in public funding, say the Pinellas County charter school has become a Scientology recruiting post targeting children.
Opened to serve a low-income Clearwater neighborhood and advertising classes in computers and modern dance, Life Force had begun pushing Hubbard’s “study technology,” which critics call a Trojan horse Scientology uses to infiltrate public classrooms.
And while Life Force students and teachers worked in poorly stocked classrooms and teachers went unpaid, the bankrupt school funneled tens of thousands of dollars more to Islam’s business interests than she told the bankruptcy court she would charge.
“There can be no accountability when this kind of stuff goes on,” said teacher Tim Roach, who said he was fired from Life Force last month after criticizing the school. “It’s the students who are going to suffer.”
Though mixing public education with religious doctrine is not allowed by the Pinellas County School District, which oversees charter schools, the district has been stymied in attempts to close Life Force because it is under bankruptcy protection.
Or under current Florida law, any charter school can go over the heads of local school boards to a state committee that’s staffed with hand-picked allies if they attempt to close them. Meanwhile the charter school lobbies are keeping up its propaganda offensive against Florida’s local school boards. Florida Charter School Alliance director Cheri Shannon said last week that “we need districts to follow the law” at a pep rally to promote – you guessed it – charter schools.
There’s more to ask republicans. Jeb Bush has made the repeal of the Blaine Amendment – a law that prohibits state contracting with religious entities – a personal priority. The ballot initiative was derailed temporarily because of it’s deliberately “ambiguous and misleading” title, “Religious Freedom” bill. A successful repeal of Blaine would give cover to the Scientology charter. Is this what Bush wants?
Its clear an attempt to indoctrinate and exploit children is under way at that Dunedin charter school. Real indoctrination…not the phony kind that some create to attack public schools.
Florida’s school privatization forces need their mantras to be the themes: “status quo,” “choice.” They need rhetorical questions to dominate the narrative: “why wouldn’t we want to include all children in the process?” or “why should one child’s education be worth less because that child is in a charter school?”
If only guys like Wise would recognize when children are actually irreparably harmed by their policies.