Barack Obama gives his second annual back-to-school speech at
the Julia R. Masterman Laboratory and Demonstration School in
Philadelphia, Pa, Sept. 14. (Photo credit: WhiteHouse.gov)
school board members object
to students watching Obama speech
By Kevin Kelley
WEB POSTED 3PM Sept. 22, 2010
Obama’s back-to-school address to the nation’s students is the latest
issue to divide the members of the Westlake Board of Education.
delivered remarks to the nation’s students from a Philadelphia middle
school Sept. 14.
School board Vice President
Tim Sullivan made a formal motion at the Sept. 13 meeting that the
speech not be shown to the district’s students. Nate Cross seconded
the motion. The motion failed, 3-2, with Sullivan and Cross voting
for the motion.
speech from the president of the United States is inherently political,”
Sullivan told West Life. “Why do we want to introduce partisan politics
into our children’s classrooms?”
West Life he had not seen the speech or read a transcript of it.
Republican, said he would also object to students viewing a speech
by a Republican president.
When the president
gave a back-to-school address a year ago, the district archived
it but did not have students watch it live, according to Superintendent
between this year and last?
the White House did a better job this year of informing educators
in advance about the address and stating that its content would
not be political in nature.
Last year, some
conservatives across the nation raised objections to having Obama
address students in public schools. Keenan said he received over
100 calls or e-mails regarding the controversy a year ago but only
one this year.
schools sent home letters informing parents of the speech. Only
one parent had his student opt out of watching Obama, Keenan said.
At the school
board meeting, Sullivan noted he spent about an hour in a phone
conversation expressing his objections to Keenan.
“I think showing
this speech just simply sends a message that the education – the
strong education of our students – is not a significant enough priority
and that we have other priorities that we will put in place of that,”
the speech would be divisive. He said the speech was an instance
of adults seeking to advance their partisan political agendas.
“And they are
willing to hurt the education of our students,” Sullivan said. “And
they are willing to damage the harmony of our school district.”
argued that having students watch the speech during the school day
took away from curriculum time.
performance index on the state report card dropped between 2009
and 2010, Sullivan noted.
that the district’s performance index last year was the second highest
106.2, down from 106.3 the previous year.
“It just so
happens last year was our highest,” the superintendent said. “And
we were one decimal point below.”
Cross said he
failed to see how the president’s speech fits into with the district’s
mission. He also said any student who opts out may be made to feel
like a pariah. Cross said the students would become political pawns
and be unable to differentiate between the president’s civic role
and that of party leader.
Andrea Rocco said the decision on the speech was best decided by
the administration, whom she trusted, and not the school board.
She said the arguments against students watching didn’t make much
“It’s kind of
like the pot calling the kettle black,” she said. Sullivan and Cross,
she said, have been quite political, she said.
Tom Mays said
he agreed it’s not right to put a political agenda over the education
of the district’s students.
“I’m not sure
the K through 6 students is the target voting audience for anyone
trying to do that,” Mays said.
The White House
released the president’s remark’s the day before the speech to permit
educators to review it.
“Your future is in your hands,” the president
said in his remarks. “Your life is what you make of it. And nothing
absolutely nothing is beyond your reach. So long as
you’re willing to dream big. So long as you’re willing to work hard.
So long as you’re willing to stay focused on your education.”
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