CLAY STUDENTS BEING USED FOR CAMPAIGNING - Sirk Files Complaint With Charleston, Matches List Slate Of Candidates

Clay County school officials are defending a teacher who has asked students to help him with campaign materials.

School board candidate Ernie Sirk has filed a complaint with the Secretary of State's office over a Clay County High School teacher asking students to carry home campaign signs and wear buttons promoting the teacher's political candidacy for county commission.

Sirk said his biggest worry is that the students were seen boarding a bus and carrying campaign signs that have metal wire legs on them. The signs could be considered dangerous weapons, he said.

Sirk alleges teacher Brian Holcomb issued extra credit to students who helped promote him in his campaign.

Holcomb told the Charleston Daily Mail that some students were given political signs and badges, but no extra credit was ever offered.

"As far as I know, it's not a crime to give someone something if they want it, but I didn't give any extra credit," said Holcomb.

Principal Philip Dobbins denied the extra credit part of Sirk's complaint, but indicated it was OK to give students over age 18 and registered to vote, political materials.

Dobbins said he has asked Holcomb to hand out political materials after school hours.

Jerry Linkenogger, superintendent of Clay County Schools, said schools face a fine line between educating students about elections, politics and the campaign process and using them to further a candidate's goals.

"We object to anyone taking advantage of kids during the school day in their campaigns," Linkenogger said. "We have several employees who are running for office, and we have asked them not to give students signs or buttons."

Sirk's complaint said "I was told Mr. Holcomb made it a common practice to distribute badges, signs and other election materials by and to his students. He has even given extra points to students for the wearing of his buttons."

"I feel that Mr. Holcomb is using his position as a public employee for private gain and in doing so is endangering the physical well-being of students. I believe that no child should be compelled to campaign for a person because of undue influence or intimidation," Sirk's complaint stated.

Sirk indicated several school officials are running for public office, and if the practice continues, there could be more battles in which the students are drawn.

Reports from Clay have said a slate of school board candidates have been printed on matches by school officials, indicating the public should approve those in favor of the local school system.