History teacher Kelly Miliziano was shocked to hear that she was under attack by numerous anti-Muslim parties after Council on American Islam Relations (CAIR) member Hassan Shibly came in to speak to her AP World History class about Islam in November.
“It’s one of the religions that students have a lot of misconceptions about, so when that happens, as a world history teacher, my goal is to make it more understandable,” said Miliziano in an exclusive interview with the Oracle.
Led by executive director of the Florida Family Association (FFA), David Caton, a wave of anger was directed at Miliziano. Additionally, one of her student’s parents called the school to complain, and letters were sent to the county (both for and against Miliziano).
According to Miliziano, Shibly was brought into the class to reinforce the curriculum; they were discussing Islam for two weeks prior to his appearance.
“I could say the same information Shibly said, and they could read it in their textbook, but having a person in front of them explaining it often helps them relate to the material, learn it better and understand it better,” said Miliziano.
The information Shibly presented could also be integral to the students’ success on their AP exams in May, according to Miliziano.
“There’s a DBQ (Document Based Question) on Islam that students have done in past years, and I think they have a better understanding of what Muslims believe. If they were asked to compare and contrast Islam to Judaism and Christianity they’d be able to do that,” said Miliziano.
According to Miliziano, a majority of the students were interested in the teachings, and also asked questions once Shibly’s presentation came to an end.
“I think for most students it was the first time they had met a Muslim or heard someone speak about Islam, but I think the majority of students were engaged, and a lot of really good questions were asked,” said Miliziano.
Caton’s FFA didn’t have the same perspective as Miliziano. The association felt that Shibly was a radical Muslim and Miliziano needed to either discontinue his visits or bring in other speakers that could “oppose” Shibly’s view.
However Miliziano had planned this prior to the beginning of the school year.
“(At the beginning of the year) we talked about what type of guest speakers we want, and what areas of the curriculum the students might benefit from a guest speaker coming in, and we originally invited someone from the Buddhist temple but they didn’t get back to (World History teacher) Shelli Barton.”
According to Miliziano, they’ve since located a guest speaker on Buddhism, but she plans to wait until next year seeing as it doesn’t fit in the current curriculum.
“We really like it to be something that has to do with what the students are studying and not just for the sake of bringing in a guest speaker,” said Miliziano.
Additionally, Miliziano has a Catholic priest visiting her classes, whom she scheduled at the beginning of the school year.
“We’re studying about the Catholic reformation so Father Malley has agreed to speak on the Council of Trent,” said Miliziano.
Along with her word, the school board has also backed Miliziano up publicly, according to a Tampa Bay Times report.
“Our kids need to understand a lot of different perspectives. They’re going to have to deal with everybody in the world, and they can’t just be afraid of them because they don’t know them,” said Candy Olson, chairwoman of the school board.
Whatever the case, Miliziano doesn’t regret her decision.
“I want a guest speaker during these few weeks we study Islam. (Next year) I would invite whoever is able to come.”
Brandon Mauriello / News Editor