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Tampa Bay Times finds a new reason to loathe April Griffin

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

In a Memorial Day weekend editorial, the Tampa Bay Times blasted Hillsborough County School Board member April Griffin for voting against an employee termination.

On the surface, its editorial seemed undisputedly spot-on. Ben Hill Middle School teacher Adam Reynolds was charged by officials with hosting an all-girl pizza party in order to introduce the girls to his teen brother – Internet video sensation Carter Reynolds.

Reynolds had been told by the district not to have the party, but did so anyway at an off-site location. The Times points out that Reynolds “likened the pizza party to a family lunch” but that he “personally chose the girls who could attend.”

Reynolds argued that because the event was off campus, it was an acceptable use of his private time.

There was even an allegation that a 14-year-old who met the Internet celebrity had a sexual encounter with him at the teacher’s home.

Those allegations were investigated and no charges were filed. The School Board was not allowed to consider those allegations in its proceedings.

The Times criticized Griffin most specifically even though she was not the only School Board member to vote against Reynolds’ termination. It wrote that during comments prior to a vote, Griffin “opined” that “people do have lives outside of their jobs.” It followed it up with a jab arguing that Griffin’s vote, as well as those of Susan Valdes, Cindy Stuart and Sally Harris (which led to the board’s no-termination vote), will cost taxpayers nearly a year’s worth of back pay and “likely” his legal expenses.

It also pointed out the district owes him a job, too. It suggests “a post where judgment and accountability are not in the job description.” The final blow to Griffin and her cohort of no-voters: “maybe something in the School Board office?”

It’s obvious the teacher’s conduct was questionable, at best. But the Times seems to have not taken into consideration the limits of what School Board members could or could not consider in the case.

Griffin took to social media to defend her vote over the weekend.

“First and foremost, we the board, sit as a quasi-judicial jury and then judge in these cases and have to act in the same manner as in a court of law. We can only consider evidence presented in the case and nothing else,” she wrote on Facebook. “The case was about insubordination. My vote was based on the fact that the district did not make a strong enough case for insubordination. Had a strong enough case been made and proven for something else I could have possibly voted to fire the employee.”

Griffin added the Classroom Teacher’s Association did not support the case against the teacher either.

It’s clear the Times has a beef with Griffin and the three other board members who tend to vote similarly. The four board members criticized by the Times’ editorial board over this vote are the same three the Times called on to be voted out following their votes to terminate former School Superintendent Mary Ellen Elia, who was just appointed the New York State Commissioner of Education.

In an editorial following that vote the Times accused Griffin of having a “petty agenda.” It referred to the whole fiasco as a “drama” led by Griffin and Valdes.

In that same editorial the Times blasted School Board newcomer Sally Harris, who had only been on the board a few weeks before casting her vote to fire Elia. They also criticized Cindy Stuart, but at least gave her credit for offering a straightforward reason for deciding to can an award-winning superintendent.

The Times also recommended Griffin be replaced last year prior to the primary election. They initially endorsed Alison McGillivray Fernandez for Griffin’s seat. However, when Fernandez was bested by top vote-getters Griffin and Dipa Shah, they went ahead and gave voters the go-ahead to re-elect Griffin.

Now it seems the Times has yet another reason to put Griffin on its chopping block.

As one commenter on Griffin’s Facebook page pointed out, the Times should not have brought up the Elia vote as it was entirely unrelated to this one and the Times seemed to have chosen its accompanying photo with bias, showing only Griffin and none of the other three board members who cast a no-vote in the termination.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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