School administrators make plans for Obama education speech

Friday, September 4, 2009

Local school districts are mostly letting teachers decide whether President Barack Obama's Tuesday speech will fit into their curriculum.

The president will address students throughout the country at 11 a.m. Tuesday to talk about succeeding in school. The address will be broadcast on the White House website and C-SPAN. The U.S. Department of Education sent letters to school administrators and posted materials on its website to help teachers guide discussions and activities relating to the speech.

The Jackson School District is leaving the decision to participate up to individual schools, said Dr. Rita Fisher, assistant superintendent. She said about three concerned parents called administrative offices about the speech Thursday morning.

The district posted a message to parents on its website addressing its stance on the issue.

"If it fits into their instructional schedule, they are welcome to watch the streaming video with their students, and if they have other things scheduled, they can decide not to view the speech," it said.

If parents do not want their children to watch the speech, they can send a note and their child will be excused, Fisher said.

Daniel Buckenmyer, the parent of two students who attend West Lane Elementary in Jackson, said he will have his children excused from the speech.

"I'm just afraid its going to be used as a political speech instead of what it's being billed as," he said.

He said he talked with several other parents who said they did not want their children to be indoctrinated by one end of the political spectrum. He said he does not mind the president talking about staying in school, but if the discussion includes politics, it crosses a line.

"I'm afraid of the line being grayed," he said.

Scott City schools will leave the decision up to teachers if they have access to and can incorporate the speech into their schedule, said superintendent Diann Bradshaw-Ulmer.

"We'll probably stick to our normal routine for the day," she said.

She said the elementary school received a couple of calls from parents not wanting their children to see the presidential address. The district will honor parents' wishes if they want to opt out, she said.

Nell Holcomb superintendent Darryl Pannier also said the school will leave the decision up to individual teachers. The speech will occur during lunch time, so many students may not have the opportunity to watch. The school's routine will also be irregular that day because it is dismissing at 12:30 p.m. for the Tour of Missouri, he said.

"Our day's in disarray anyways," Pannier said.

Officials at Cape Girardeau schools said the speech was not an issue because students will not be in class that day. It is one of four days set aside for professional development for teachers.

The White House plans to release the speech online several hours beforehand so parents can read it.

"I think it's really unfortunate that politics has been brought into this," White House deputy policy director Heather Higginbottom told The Associated Press. "It's simply a plea to students to really take their learning seriously. Find out what they're good at. Set goals. And take the school year seriously."

She noted that President George H.W. Bush made a similar address to schools in 1991. Like Obama, Bush drew criticism, with Democrats accusing the Republican president of making the event into a campaign commercial.

Critics are particularly upset about lesson plans the administration created to accompany the speech. The lesson plans, available online, originally recommended having students "write letters to themselves about what they can do to help the president."

The White House revised the plans Wednesday to say students could "write letters to themselves about how they can achieve their short-term and long-term education goals."

"That was inartfully worded, and we corrected it," Higginbottom said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


Pertinent address:

614 Adams St., Jackson, MO

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