Days after a guest speaker spoke to students in the Camdenton R-III School District, controversy has emerged on the content and delivery of her message.

Days after a guest speaker spoke to students in the Camdenton R-III School District, controversy has emerged on the content and delivery of her message.

Tina Marie Griffin spoke to high school and middle school students in what administrators thought was supposed to be a motivational and encouraging assembly. But some have taken umbridge to unexpected religious references, questioning if a school is the appropriate forum for controversial subject matter. Without video or audio recordings to document Griffin's exact words, the analysis of the assemblies depends on the various interpretations of students and staff in attendance.

According to Griffin's website her programs, known as "Tina Marie Live," have a mission "to reveal the deadly consequences of the glamorization of premarital sex, drug and alcohol abuse, suicide, cutting and other self-destructive behaviors portrayed in all entertainment mediums. Tina Marie Live will educate and encourage people to live to their fullest potential by making positive media choices, thereby building higher self esteem and moral character."

According to Camdenton R-III administrators, district counselors have heard Griffin speak at a Missouri School Counselors conference and thought it would be beneficial to have her speak to students.

Griffin told the Lake Sun she was approached by Camdenton Middle School staff about speaking at a school assembly and sat down with both middle school and high school officials about a week before the event. She also said she offered to host parent assemblies as well but the district staff wanted to go ahead with the student assemblies.

"My heart is for these students. Over the course of four years, Camdenton was the only local school district I wasn't in," Griffin said. According to Griffin, she has been repeatedly approached by parents, staff and students — at least 40 to 50 individuals — about speaking in Camdenton schools.

Griffin spoke in three different assemblies. She spoke to freshmen and sophomores in one assembly, and to juniors and seniors in another. After leaving the high school, she spoke to seventh and eighth graders at Camdenton Middle School.

"We were anticipating her topics being on the students identity and having a positive identity for themselves," Camdenton High School Principal Brett Thompson said. "There was a different feel in each session. The first assembly seemed to be better received than the second."

Thompson added that after second session with the older students, students came to him and expressed that they felt like the speaker had religious undertones in her presentation and they felt Griffin spoke in a condescending manner. Some also felt as if the positive intent of the assembly was lost in the delivery. On the other hand, Thompson also had positive feedback from students. Some were grateful to hear Griffin's message.

"As far as what we were expecting the presentation to be about, it did go beyond what we were expecting to her to present," Thompson commented.

Superintendent Tim Hadfield agreed with Thompson.

"She went beyond what we were expecting her to present. For me, that's the issue," Hadfield said. "I do think that anytime we invite visitors in to address our students, that we need to scrutinize that message and the channels through which that message would be communicated."

Griffin's website outlines what her presentation — entitled "Hollywood Exposed" — covers. The site states that Griffin will reveal how celebrities shelter their own children from the "entertainment" they produce, how pop-culture makes sex look 'cheap,' interviews of rappers who are drug-free around their own children but not on MTV, how harmful media affects our hearts and minds, how each and every person can use their talents to create positive change world-wide and gives the latest and hottest positive entertainment choices from movies, video games, TV shows, comedians and more.

For one parent, the content on Griffin's website was beneficial and is something she would have wanted her teens to hear but after her three children each came home in what she calls a "frenzy," she now thinks otherwise.

Kim Garrison is a mother of an eighth grader, freshman and junior in the district.

"My kids came home in a frenzy — all three of them. They were very upset. My oldest told me they were forced to stay in an assembly they did not agree with. She [Griffin] was telling them if they played 'Call of Duty' [a first-person shooter video game] they would become serial killers," Garrison said. "The speaker was also selling purity rings after the assembly and told students, 'If you have already had sex, you can change things by wearing this for two weeks and become a virgin again.'"

Garrison relayed that her daughter, a Camdenton freshman, said she gained insight from Griffin's message, such as not letting Hollywood control what your body looks like but was offended when the speaker made comments about shows such as 'The Big Bang Theory' and singers like Katy Perry, describing them each as 'satanic.'

"The biggest thing my kids had a problem with was all the sex talk," Garrison said. "She [Griffin] took it too far. She took her freedom of speech too far."

Since the assembly, Garrison has spoken with administrators and does feel better about the situation.

"I first felt very hurt because of the trust that was broken," Garrison said of the school district.

Another student felt as if the assembly was a breath of fresh air and applauded Griffin's boldness.

"I loved it. I think that she shed light on a lot of topics that most people do not have the courage to talk about in a high school setting," junior Jordan Major said. "No one wants to be called out in their actions or told how to live. Her overall message was about taking out negativity in your life and replacing it with the positive. I made me think differently about what I watch and listen to."

According to Major, Griffin never said that if one plays hours of video games they would become a serial killer but said that in the past, school shooting suspects' family and friends reported those individuals were known for playing hours of violent video games such as 'Call of Duty.' Major also said that nothing was said that a person could become a virgin again by wearing a purity ring for two weeks.

"She [Griffin] said, 'If you chose to become sexually active in the past, it does not have to define you any further,'" Major added.

Major described the scene as very calm at the beginning but got increasingly different as the presentation progressed. She recalls students making loud comments about what she was saying, describing the behavior as "rude."

"I was embarrassed. I thought it was ridiculous that they would be so rude to her," Major said.

Major saw some of her classmates get up and walk out. She said she knew the assembly was optional but most chose to stay in it in order to get out of class.

Thompson said that whenever a school-wide assembly is held, students are expected to attend, but none of the students that chose to leave the assembly were punished in any way.

When Griffin left the high school, she made her way to Camdenton Middle School.

"I talked to her, saying to watch church and state and be appropriate with how she said things," Principal Paula Brown said. "In my building, we didn't have any problems and I have not had one phone call."

Griffin says that she "dumbed down" the presentation and did not go into length about some topics like she has in other presentations. She also added that she stuck to what she portrays her message is all about and did not touch on any religious topics.

"I know what I can and can't say in schools," Griffin said. "My agenda was to save lives and that's what I did."

Griffin added that she tells the students to think about her message for at least a week before they make up their mind on how they truly feel about it. She also said that she tells the students that do not have to agree with her.

"I'm not going to win over the whole audience and that's not my goal," Griffin said. "My goal is to shed light on topics and give them something to chew on."

No separation of church and state laws were broken during the assemblies. According to firstamendmentcenter.org, an educational organization affiliated with Vanderbilt University, it is legal to invite guest speakers to help teach about religion. The school did not invite Griffin in with the expectation of her giving a religious presentation and it is unclear — and likely up to the individual's interpretation — to what extent Griffin's message is considered 'religious.'

A video or transcript of the assemblies are not available. Griffin does have a powerpoint of her presentation but it does not include everything that was said during the assembly.

Griffin's ideals can be viewed on her website, www.tinamarielive.com.