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School district connection to controversial conference topic of special meeting

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Updated: 10/24/2013 8:13 pm
GREEN COVE SPRINGS, Fla. -- Some members of the Clay County School Board and the local teacher's union are calling for an investigation into Superintendent Charlie Van Zant.

Action News was first to report Van Zant signed off on spending more than $2,000 on a history conference many believe is controversial.

Soon after, the Clay County School Board voted to disassociate the school district with the two-day event called Dare to Think.

But Action News reporter Ryan Smith discovered connections to the conference still exist.

Van Zant is personally partnering with Dare to Think to promote American history, according to a district spokesman.

Action News also obtained an email sent from a district office staff member to local principals and history teachers informing them of the event after the school board voted to cut its ties.

The brochure attacked to the email still displays the Clay County School District logo front and center.

"History teachers in our district have been informed of this, asked if they want to attend," said board member Janice Kerekes. "I'm concerned to see who's paying for it. Is the school district paying for registration fees and substitute teachers? We've opened up ourselves to a cost."

Clay County School District spokesman Gavin Rollins said taxpayer funds will not be spent promoting or sponsoring Dare to Think.

Action News asked who would be paying for teachers to attend, should any decide to take part in the conference.

"It's my understanding that the professional development, they are given a lot of latitude on professional development," said Rollins. "So it's an individual case-by-case basis."

School board chairwoman Carole Studdard called a special meeting for 5 p.m. Wednesday at the Teacher Training Center at Fleming Island High School to discuss actions taken by Van Zant.

"I certainly think personally that it needs to be looked at -- that there might be something illegal or unethical that's taken place here. We need an investigation," said Kerekes.

According to a statement released by Rollins on Thursday, "There is no pending investigation regarding 'Dare to Think' conference. 'Dare to Think' is a non-profit, non-partisan conference with the stated goal of encouraging a renewed emphasis on American history. "

Some board members raised questions last week over the conference when they learned its organizer, Bill Korach, is the vice chairman of the St. Johns County Republican Executive Committee.

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