Obama speech causing controversy

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 4, 2009

Local superintendents and administrators aren’t sure if they will broadcast President Barack Obama’s speech to schoolchildren on Tuesday.

Troy City Schools Superintendent Linda Felton-Smith said on Thursday she wasn’t sure what her schools would do since this was the first she had heard of the President’s planned speech directed to school students on Tuesday. The speech, which is scheduled to be broadcast live, has caused controversy across the nation, with some school districts refusing to air the speech based on parental concern.

However, she did expect to reach a decision sometime today.

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Elizabeth Stallworth, president of Troy Elementary School’s Parent Teacher Organization said “Because of the strict educational requirements already placed upon our school, Troy Elementary School has decided not to broadcast the message.”

“Our week is shortened by the Labor Day holiday, and we are celebrating Grandparent’s Day on Friday, therefore, we will not be using crucial instructional time to broadcast this controversial message,” Stallworth said.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan sent out letters to principals across the national urging schools to watch the program, but Stallworth said she had talked with TES Principal Jeffrey Spann Thursday, and as of 4:30 p.m. he had not received any information from the White House or any official communication on behalf of the White House regarding the video message.

Pike Liberal Arts School Headmistress Ceil Sikes said her students would not be participating. She did not elaborate.

Pike County School Superintendent Mark Bazzell did not return our call as of press time.

The president’s speech, which is scheduled to be broadcast live on the White House Web site and C-SPAN around midday Tuesday, was supposed to be the White House’s attempt for a feel-good story for an administration battered over its health care agenda.But, conservatives nationwide are calling it an effort to foist a political agenda on children, creating yet another confrontation with the White House.

Obama’s plan is to speak directly to students about the need to stay in school and work hard. Districts in states including Texas, Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, Virginia, Wisconsin have decided not to show the speech to students. Others are still thinking it over or are letting parents have their kids opt out. Some conservatives, who are driven by radio pundits and bloggers, are urging schools and parents to boycott the address.

They say Obama is using the opportunity to promote a political agenda and is overstepping the boundaries of federal involvement in schools.

Even senators are speaking out. “As far as I am concerned, this is not civics education – it gives the appearance of creating a cult of personality,” Oklahoma state Sen. Steve Russell told the Associated Press. “This is something you’d expect to see in North Korea or in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.”

The White House plans to release the speech online Monday so parents can read it.

He will deliver the speech at Wakefield High School in Arlington, Va.