President Barack Obama's plans to address students directly in their classrooms is causing a stir among some parents, and they're letting school districts know about it. White House spokesman: Furor over speech is "silly"
President Barack Obama's plans to address students directly in their classrooms is causing a stir among some parents, and they're letting school districts know about it.
Phone calls and e-mails started rolling into East Valley district offices on Thursday as news of the president's planned address next Tuesday made headlines and webcasts.
According to the U.S. Department of Education Web site, the speech is designed to encourage students to stay in school and to set high educational goals. The Web site includes activities for classroom teachers to use after the speech.
State schools chief Tom Horne said materials distributed to schools in preparation for Obama's speech next week "is not good educational policy."
"Students should be taught critical thinking skills," said Horne, state superintendent of public instruction. "Whoever wrote the White House materials is very worshipful toward the president."
Horne, a Republican, said he has not offered any directive to Arizona's schools regarding the speech or watching it.
"I don't have the power to direct them," he said.
A handful of parents sent e-mails to the Gilbert Unified School District raising concerns about the content of the speech, and the district's plan to make the broadcast available for classroom viewing.
Gilbert dad Paul D. Amrozowicz said his daughter, a sophomore at Campo Verde High School, will not attend school on Tuesday to protest the "unprecedented act" by Obama to address the nation's schoolchildren, and the Gilbert district's decision to participate.
"Not only is this speech unprecedented, I believe it is wholly inappropriate," said Amrozowicz, in an e-mail to the district. "Our nation's president, no matter his or her political affiliation, has no business injecting himself or herself into every local classroom nationwide; neither is it his or her business (nor role) to suggest how teachers may assist students in figuring out how they can help the president."
Obama's speech actually isn't unprecedented. Former President George H.W. Bush gave a similar speech to the nation's students in 1991, broadcast live on radio and television. At the time, Democrats criticized Bush and the U.S. Department of Education, calling the speech political advertising.
Several school districts posted notices to parents on their Web sites letting them know about Obama's speech. Many districts said it would be available to students live or in a recording later in the day. But Queen Creek Unified School District Superintendent James Murlless is recommending his district "not take the time right now" to show the speech, and "possibly tape it for later viewing if a teacher feels the need and the subject and grade level are appropriate.""This whole speech idea of President Obama's to the school children, while well intended, seemingly may have a political overtone to it," Murlless said in an e-mail. "While on first blush, urging kids to stay in school, is good, I think this speech would better serve children in their own homes under the supervision of their parents."Murlless said he has heard from several parents who are concerned that the district "would subject their children to this talk."
Gilbert mom Brenda Damm-Morreim said she has no problems with Obama's speech. She remembers watching the moon landing in school.
"My child will definitely watch it," said Damm-Morreim, whose son is a senior at Mesquite High School. "I don't know what the big deal is."
Students in the Mesa Unified School District will be able to watch the event live or at another time deemed by their teachers, said district spokesman Kathy Bareiss. The district will not use the White House-provided curriculum. Parents can also have their children opt out of the event.
"Our board policy has always had the guidance that if there is a curriculum or assignment parents or students choose not to participate in they can do that. ... We will be providing an alternative activity," Bareiss said.
Clyde Dangerfield, assistant superintendent for the Gilbert schools, said the district received six e-mails from parents concerned about the speech.
"Some people I believe philosophically object to President Obama's approach to things, starting with the recovery approach, the stimulus funds, health care," Dangerfield said. "I get the feeling they are concerned, about, 'What is he really planning on saying?' I think it's going to be simple: Stay in school, do well, graduate."
Like other East Valley districts, Gilbert parents can excuse their children from the viewing. Those students will go to another activity on campus. Teachers will have the final decision on whether or not to use the materials given as follow-up to the speech, according to the district's Web site.
Arizona School Boards Association sent out a statement Thursday saying "the content of the address, as expressed by the U.S. Department of Education, supports the mission of public schools."
"Though we strongly encourage our school district members to participate in this non-partisan, non-political educational event, we also believe that the choice to participate must be a local one," according to the ASBA news release. "It also must be noted that parents have rights, outlined in district policy, to allow their children to opt out of any curricular activity."
The Chandler Unified School District will not show the speech live because of its Internet and programming setup, district spokesman Terry Locke said.
Locke said the district and schools did receive calls from parents.
"Before we could sort out concerns, we made a determination that our infrastructure couldn't support all of the simultaneous viewing," Locke said.
Individual teachers may decide to show the speech on another day, he said.
The Higley Unified School District sent an e-mail to parents Thursday saying the district will record the speech and make it available to teachers.
"As a district, we will respect the Office of the President and present the speech appropriate to our learning levels and curriculum," the Higley e-mail said. "Classroom teachers will notify parents about when the video recording will be shown. Parents will have the opportunity to determine if their student will view the speech."
Nationwide, some Republican groups this week criticized the president's plan to address students directly. From Florida to Texas, Web stories are showing up with concerns that Obama plans to "indoctrinate America's children to his socialist agenda."