Obama Student Speech Sparks Protest
Some schools won't show President Obama's online speech to the nation's students Tuesday because of the objections of administrators and parents.
Independence, Mo., School District Superintendent Jim Hinson says he's gotten "more calls than we've ever had on an issue," some from parents who will keep their children home Tuesday.
Obama will challenge students "to work hard, stay in school and dramatically reduce the dropout rate" in the noon ET speech, says White House spokesman Tommy Vietor. "This isn't a policy speech."
Lesson plans sent to schools originally suggested that students write letters to themselves "about what they can do to help the president." That language prompted conservative radio host Glenn Beck to say the White House goal is the "indoctrination" of children.
This week, the wording was changed to suggest that students' letters focus on ways to achieve their educational goals, Vietor says. The speech will be posted online Monday, he says.
Sandra Abrevaya, U.S. Education Department spokeswoman, notes that President George H.W. Bush addressed the nation's students on live TV in 1991.
Regardless of who the president is, says Brett Curtis, a parent in Pearland, Texas, "I don't want him coming into the schools and making a political speech to my children. It's just wrong."
Some schools are setting their own limits. Hinson says Obama's remarks won't be shown in elementary schools. Other teachers can decide whether to watch.
Stu Silberman, superintendent of Fayette County Public Schools in Lexington, Ky., says about 50 people have called to protest. Some "got riled up" after hearing on talk radio that the speech will have political themes, he says.
The speech will be shown in many classrooms, Silberman says. Other activities will be found for students whose parents don't want them to see it.
Instead of showing the speech, Texas' Wichita Falls Independent School District will put a link on its website so students and parents can watch at home, says spokeswoman Renae Murphy.
David Bradley, a Republican-elected member of the Texas State Board of Education, says Obama's speech bypasses the authority of states and local school administrators. His advice to parents: "If you're concerned, keep your kids home for the day."
Chuck Saylors, National PTA president, a father of four and a member of the Greenville County, S.C., School Board, approves of any president's involvement in "doing something positive" to encourage students. "It's sad that we've had to turn yet something else into a political issue."
The communications department at Florida's Sarasota County School District has gotten about 50 calls, says spokesman Scott Ferguson. Teachers can show the speech if it fits into their courses, and parents can decide if their children watch.
Granite School District in Salt Lake City has gotten a few complaints at each of its 89 schools, says spokesman Ben Horsley. The district is sending a notice to parents advising them that they also can watch online.
Mark Enderle, superintendent of the Fort Osage, Mo., School District, started getting calls on Monday. He's not requiring teachers to show the speech, nor is he discouraging it. Parents who object can have their children excused.
Enderle wonders why the speech has stirred such controversy. He supports a positive message about education from the White House, he says, "regardless of whether my president's name is Obama, Bush or Millard Fillmore."