Independent Democracy

Thought provoking commentary

Questions for Pinellas Florida School Board candidates – District 1

The best way to learn about the candidates is to ask them.  So I did.  As a military member who is faithful about voting, I always take the time to learn about the candidates before I cast my ballot.  It’s amazing to me how many people either don’t vote, vote for a candidate because of their gender or race, or simply take the lazy approach and vote for whoever is endorsed by their local newspaper.  As I have for the last 3 years, I vote via absentee because I do not currently reside in Florida.  I listen to Tampa area talk shows via the internet (my favorite local host is Daniel Ruth), or I read the St Pete Times online to learn more about the candidates and ballot issues.

This year I decided to email each of the candidates in the Pinellas School Board District 1 race and ask them some questions that were important to me.  Tampa has a good summary of the candidates positions but they’re not the questions I would have asked.  Below are the questions I did ask our District 1 candidates and their answers (in no particular order).  Hopefully you will find it useful in your voting decision.  Feel free to leave your comments or contact the candidates yourself.

Thank you to the candidates for answering my questions.  I sincerely appreciate your time.

My questions to the candidates:

1. Do you support the constitutional provision for a separation between church and state? What, specifically, do you think it means for public schools?

2. What are your views on the role of religion in the public schools? (For example, the teaching of religion, teaching creationism, evolution, etc.)

3. What are your views on reciting the Pledge of Allegiance by students?

4. What are your thoughts on school voucher programs that allow parents to choose which school their children attend and authorize tax dollars to pay for private tuition regardless of family income or what type of school they attend?

And here are the responses:

Ms. Janet R. Clark

Thanks for your interest, Mr. Evans. I’m glad you’re taking the time to research issues before voting…I wish everyone did.

1. One of the wisest things the framers of the Constitution did was to provide for a separation of church and state. In public schools. This means that no religion can be supported or promoted by the school or employees of the school. This does not mean religion should be prohibited as a topic in appropriate classes, such as history or cultural studies. I do not object to extracurricular clubs that have religion as a focus, as long as membership is optional and meetings are held after school hours.

2. I touched on this in my previous answer. I think students should learn about the tenets of most of the world’s religions in their social studies classes and Comparative Religions would be a good class to offer our upper level students. I believe science should be taught in science classrooms. Creationism and intelligent design are not science.

3. Students do not leave their rights at the schoolhouse door and can’t be forced to participate in the recitation of the Pledge. (I think this was the finding of a recently appealed court case.) When I taught middle school and had to deal with students who rebelliously refused to recite the Pledge, I explained to them that while they could not be forced to recite it, they also could not disrupt the rights of the other students to recite it and they were expected to sit or stand quietly. I would also share my personal experiences of traveling outside of the US for my daughter’s gymnastics events and how we and citizens of other countries stand to show respect during the playing of foreign national anthems.

4. I do not support vouchers. They are unconstitutional and are not held to the same accountability standards that publics schools are.

Since you are out of state, I hope you are paying attention to the amendments that will be on the November ballot. Three of them specifically address public education and could cause untold damage. The following link provides info on 5, 7 & 9 (and other stuff you might or might not be interested in).

Mr. Grant Smith

Thanks for your extra effort in determining your vote as well as your service to our country.

1. I do support the constitutional provision separating church and state.  What I believe it means for public schools is that activities and curriculum must not promote or endorse a specific denomination or faith.

2. I believe more education is better than less but we have to prioritize curriculum.  First we have to determine what specific information is necessary for students to succeed and second is the information available elsewhere.   As for the teaching of religion, I do not oppose its teaching as I believe a value base is a critical component in student success.  However I do oppose teaching of religion if it takes time away from subject areas that are not freely available elsewhere.  Considering the free and accessible nature of religious education offered by churches I believe it is not necessary to be taught in the public schools.In regards to evolution and creationism…I do not support teaching creationism within a science curriculum.  I believe the teaching of evolution should be limited to cellular level adaptation, zoology and the empirical evidence associated with the development of man on earth  and not as a definitive theory on the origins of life. My reasons for not teaching creationism are simple…I would rather rely on my church to teach my children, creationism does not meet the criterion for science and finally I am fearful that the biblical account of creationism will be marginalized if it is not taken in the context of a more comprehensive bible study that aligned the prophecies of the old testament with the realization of events in the new testament.

3. I believe the pledge allegiance should be recited every day in school.

4. I oppose the use of tax dollars to fund private tuition.

Jennifer Crockett

I just want to be sure you understand that while these are important issues, local school boards do not have authority within their districts over most of your concerns.  Thank you for taking the time to contact me and feel free to contact me with any other issues that you may have.

1. Yes, I do support the separation.  While I am a Christian and I’m very active within the children’s ministry within my church, a school board member needs to remain neutral regarding religion within public schools.

2. I feel that there can be a place for religion studies in elective courses; however, I do not feel that creationism should be part of a mandatory science curriculum.

3. The Pledge of Allegiance is part of our country’s foundation; however, if a student does not participate due to their own religion, they should not be reprimanded.

4. I favor families having options, such as private schools or homeschooling; however, I am opposed to vouchers paid for by tax dollars.  In Florida, our private schools are not held to the same accountability measures as public schools.

Mr. Max Loden

Thank you for the opportunity to address your questions.

1. I do support the constitutional provision for a separation of church and state and as a public school employee for 35 years I have always respected the letter and spirit of the law regarding separation of church and state.  I believe what it means for public schools is that we, as educators, should never abuse the trust parents place upon us by promoting a specific religious doctrine in the public classrooms as the only correct doctrine or by forcing students to participate in a religious observance. We should always remember what the basic purpose of the public education system is and why it was founded. The role of the school is to teach the academic skills necessary for students to become self-sufficient, productive citizens. The role of parents and the church is to teach religious doctrine.

2. Religion has played a tremendous role throughout history. Public schools should be able to teach regarding the impact religion has had around the world both historically and culturally. Public school curriculum should include historical facts and how religion may have affected events in history.

3. I believe public schools should teach  the Pledge of Allegiance to students as soon as they begin school in kindergarten and students should participate in reciting the Pledge at an early age.  As students grow older we need to make sure that the school curriculum is also teaching the importance of patriotism, the cost of freedom and the meaning of the Pledge. There comes a time, however, when students will reach an age when some students will question the practice of reciting the Pledge. Schools should always begin the day with the opportunity for students and staff to recite the Pledge, but for those students, usually middle and high school age, that rebel at participating you have to allow them the right to not participate. Although we can not mandate a display of patriotism, we can require that all students respect the rights of those that do want to participate in the Pledge and that they not disrupt that exercise or disrespect those that participate.

4. I do not support the school voucher plan that permits parents to utilize tax revenue for private school tuition. I believe the plan violates the intent of the separation of church and state provision.


August 11, 2008 - Posted by | Current Events, Helpful Resources, News, Newspaper, Politics, Religion


  1. On the issue of church and state, I encourage you to re-examine the Constitution. The words “separation of church and state” do not appear anywhere in the document. The establishment clause, on which the notion is based, says that the state will not establish any religion. The goverment cannot endorse or mandate a state sponsered religion, which is a good thing. Our modern ideas of separation of church and state have evloved from that.

    Comment by Clark Bunch | August 11, 2008 | Reply

  2. By the way, I think questioning your local candidates on issues that concern you is the most socially responsible thing I’ve heard of anyone doing in a long time. I’m a social studies teacher. Way to go!

    Comment by Clark Bunch | August 11, 2008 | Reply

  3. Grant Smith said “I believe the teaching of evolution should be limited to cellular level adaptation, zoology and the empirical evidence associated with the development of man on earth and not as a definitive theory on the origins of life.”

    Where did this god-soaked idiot get the idea he’s qualified to say anything about what’s taught in a biology class? Grant Smith, let science teachers do their jobs. They don’t need any advice from religious morons like yourself.

    Grant Smith also said “Considering the free and accessible nature of religious education offered by churches I believe it is not necessary to be taught in the public schools.”

    Religion better not be taught in the public schools moron. Did you think you’re living in a theocracy?

    Max Loden said “I believe public schools should teach the Pledge of Allegiance to students as soon as they begin school in kindergarten and students should participate in reciting the Pledge at an early age.”

    Including the “Under God” part, right Loden? You Christian idiots need to keep your childish sky fairy nonsense out of our public schools. Not everybody is a brain-dead Christian like you Loden.

    Comment by bobxxxx | August 11, 2008 | Reply

  4. What if a teacher in public school teaches humanism religiously? What about taro cards and fortune telling? If tax dollars can pay for those things, why can’t parents choose what religious things their children hear? I won’t be able to vote for any of you, since you are so opposed to vouchers. Are you sure you don’t oppose the loss of the power that comes to the public schools through that money? More power than the parents have?

    Comment by Becky Enterline | August 18, 2008 | Reply

  5. Unfortunate that not a single candidate supports vouchers. Also unfortunate is that not a single candidate, while supposedly supporting a separation of church and state, made no mention of “under God” which was added to the pledge by President Eisenhower specifically for the purpose of putting God in public schools.

    Comment by Thomas | August 25, 2008 | Reply

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