By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Area schools ponder showing Obamas speech
Placeholder Image

Back-to-school address

What: President Barack Obama’s national address
to students
When: Broadcast live at noon Tuesday
Where: Find it on the White House’s Web site , the C-SPAN television channel. After the broadcast, the address will be posted at

As controversy swirls over President Barack Obama’s planned televised speech Tuesday to students across the nation, local school districts are deciding how to handle it.

Obama’s planned address to students has prompted a surprising push-back from some quarters. Some conservative critics say Obama is trying to promote a political agenda.

Some parents have asked school administrators if their children will be viewing the address in school Tuesday.

"Our switchboard was pretty hot (Thursday)," said Hall County Superintendent Will Schofield.

Schofield said he received dozens of e-mails on the issue as administrators fielded numerous phone calls from parents asking whether their child would be "forced" to watch Obama address America’s school children.

Both in Hall County and Gainesville schools, superintendents said it is up to teachers to decide if they would like to incorporate into their lesson plans the president’s stay-in-school message.

Schofield said parents who do not want their children to view Obama’s message will be given a positive alternative activity to do at noon Tuesday. He said the message will be taped and stored for teachers’ future use.

"It is fundamental in our partnership with our community that we hold sacred the concept of parental rights," Schofield said. "As with any activity in our schools, parents are the ultimate decision makers regarding material to which their children are exposed."

Schofield noted that it’s not the first time a president has directly addressed America’s students. He recalled George H.W. Bush’s anti-drug message to students in the early ’90s.

Gainesville schools Superintendent Merrianne Dyer said she is not aware of any parental concerns regarding Obama’s address. She said she supports any presidents’ message to kids that relates the importance of education, individual goals and completing high school.

"I think a president of any party — his work is to plant the seed for the next generation," Dyer said. "... It appears to be a shame adults’ political differences have entered into this."

Lakeview Academy Headmaster Jim Robison said on the private school’s Web site that classes will not be interrupted to watch the speech. But he said if an upper school teacher considers the speech relevant to material studied in their class, the teacher may allow students to watch the speech.

Because the speech is scheduled during lunch, Jefferson City Schools System officials have decided to tape it for later use.

"The media specialists will record the speech on Tuesday," said John Jackson, city schools system superintendent. "After the principals have had an opportunity to watch the presentation, we will be in a better position to know the most effective way to make use of the President’s message."

Reviewing the message will allow system staff to determine which grade levels the message is geared toward, Jackson said.

Dawson County Superintendent Keith Porter said the district will not mandate students to watch the president’s speech. It will be up to each teacher to decide if the address fits into their curriculum or plans for the day. Schools will allow students to opt out of watching the address if their teacher chooses to show it.

Following the speech’s broadcast, it will be available for viewing on the White House’s Web site.

Across the country, the speech has spurred mixed reaction.

"I think we’ve reached a little bit of the silly season when the president of the United States can’t tell kids in school to study hard and stay in school," presidential spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters. "I think both political parties agree that the dropout rate is something that threatens our long-term economic success."

Yet Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, a potential presidential contender in 2012, said Obama’s speech is "uninvited" and that the president’s move raises questions of content and motive.

Some school districts have decided not to show Obama’s speech, partly in response to concerns from parents.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, on Friday defended Obama’s plan to address students.

"The bottom line is we need the president of the United States of America to use his bully pulpit to talk to kids about the importance of education and to help inspire kids," she said on "The John Gambling Show" on radio station 710-AM in New York.

Gibbs said former Republican presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush delivered similar speeches to students. He said Obama’s speech will not be partisan but rather a chance for children to get "a little encouragement as they start the school year."

The White House spokesman said he couldn’t speak to the motivations of some school districts.

"Look, there are some school districts that won’t let you read ‘Huckleberry Finn,’" Gibbs said.

He said the administration understands that some districts have logistical concerns with the timing of Obama’s speech.

The White House plans to release the speech online Monday so parents can read it. Obama will deliver the speech at Wakefield High School in Arlington, Va.

Reporters Jessica Jordan, Brandee Thomas, regional staff reporter Stephanie Griffin
and The Associated Press contributed to this story.