Schools to air Obama speech

Published 9:15 am Saturday, September 5, 2009

FRANKLIN—The first day of school isn’t until Tuesday for local public schools, but some are already dealing with a controversy stemming from a speech President Barack Obama plans to give to the nation’s schoolchildren.

According to Obama’s Web site, the speech will “urge students to take personal responsibility for their own education, to set goals, and to not only stay in school but make the most of it.”

The speech, which will be broadcast live from a high school in Arlington at noon on Tuesday, and accompanying lesson plans from the U.S. Department of Education have sparked a political firestorm and outraged some Republican leaders and parents who say that the speech will be political in nature.

Jim Greer, chairman of the Florida Republican Party, even went as far as to say “taxpayer dollars are being used to spread President Obama’s socialist ideology.”

While local school districts are planning to show the speech, they are making arrangements because of the public outcry.

Isle of Wight County Public Schools are “following the state’s guidance,” and allowing individual principals and teachers to make decisions about whether or not to air the speech, according to division spokeswoman Katherine Goff.

She said that since it’s the first day of classes, and taking place during the lunch hour, teachers may decide to record the speech and show it later.

Goff said that the school system has received some calls from concerned parents, and the district is making arrangements so that no child is forced to watch the speech if they or their parents object.

“It will not be required,” she said. “We’re providing provisions for any students who elect to opt out.”

Southampton County Public Schools is also following state guidelines and allowing individual schools to make the decision about whether to view the speech, according to Superintendent Charles Turner.

Turner said that only Meherrin Elementary had indicated that it would show the speech live, but it would be recorded for “future reference.” Unlike Isle of Wight, Southampton officials haven’t fielded any calls from parents about the speech.

“At this point, we have heard of no objections or concerns from parents,” Turner wrote in an e-mail on Friday. However, he noted, “reasonable accommodations will be made should a concern arise.”

Franklin City Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Michelle Belle said that all three of the division’s schools will show Obama’s speech in their libraries live at noon on Tuesday for students who want to watch it. However, she said that the speech’s time presents some logistical issues for the division.

“I wish they would have put a little more consideration into the time of day,” she said. At noon, many students will be at lunch and she also said that the speech taking place on the first day of school doesn’t allow for the division to solicit parental input. “It puts us in a tough spot.”

“I think that some parents are going to object to it, and I’m going to respect that,” Belle said. She said that the speech will be recorded and permission slips will be sent home to parents before it is shown in classrooms.

Belle said that she was unaware of any serious concerns from parents as of Friday afternoon, but said that could change.

“We’ll see what Tuesday brings,” she said.