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More questions raised about StudentsFirst petition

In defending the so-called parent trigger bill, Sen. Kelli Stargel has been referencing a petition signed by more than 1,300 Floridians who support the measure. The signatures were collected by StudentsFirst, the education think tank founded by former D.C. schools chief Michelle Rhee.

But questions began swirling late last week, week three people named on the document told The Herald/Times they had never signed it.

On Sunday, The Herald/Times sent an email to each person who had allegedly signed the online petition. Of the 241 who responded, 212 confirmed their signatures.

"I signed it electronically," wrote Woodie H. Thomas, III, a Palm Beach Gardens attorney. "I'm for any catalyst that brings meaningful change to the public school system."

But 29 people said they had not signed the petition. 

"I did NOT join my name to a petition in support of the so-called Parent Empowerment Act," wrote John Raymaker, of Tallahassee. "Instead, I signed a petition OPPOSING this act. More deceitful, incredibly dishonest tactics!"

Alan Dorfman, of Delray Beach, said he had signed, but felt duped.

"Further information received after signing makes me believe that at best, I didn't get the whole story, or at worst, I was fooled by the signature request," he wrote.

StudentsFirst Regional Press Secretary Calvin Harris said the organization "stands by the authenticity of the signatures."

"Giving parents a way to get their kids out of failing schools by providing educational options is the right thing to do -- we don't need a petition to tell us that," Harris said. "But it is heartening to see that there are hundreds of names of parents, educators, and other concerned citizens making their voices heard and demanding equal access to a quality education.”

Stargel has said she has no reason to doubt the signatures.

The controversial bill hits the Senate floor Monday. It has already passed in the House.