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President’s speech banned in local schools

Districts divided on policies

POSTED September 4, 2009 11:10 p.m.
A live address to students across the nation from President Barack Obama on the value of hard work and education has turned into a national debate that has school districts embroiled in controversy on the decision to show the speech or not.
Local school districts’ reactions to the controversy has run the gamut from support for the president’s message to prohibiting teachers from showing the live address Tuesday morning.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, “the president will speak directly to the nation’s children and youth about persisting and succeeding in school.” He also “will challenge students to work hard, set educational goals, and take responsibility.”
Initially, the White House also suggested educators create a lesson plan around the speech, including writing letters on how students could help President Obama. The lesson plan is what stirred up the ire of some parents and the White House subsequently dropped the suggestion.
Some school districts are refusing to allocate school time to hear Obama’s speech, while others think it is a great moment in history.  
During a regular monthly meeting of county school superintendents, those who were in attendance agreed that viewing the president’s speech should be a decision made at the site and classroom level in their districts, according to an e-mail sent by the Stanislaus County Office of Education to all county school districts.
The e-mail also stated that “teachers would be asked to use instructional discretion; making a determination based on curriculum and age-appropriateness for their students.”  
The Turlock Unified School District is letting the principals at each site decide whether to allow teachers to show the president’s speech live, to show it to students after teachers have had time to create a lesson plan, or to not show it at all.
“Each school is a case by case situation, depending on what the teacher or principal wants,” said Sonny Da Marto, Turlock Unified School District superintendent.  
Pitman High School and Turlock Junior High School are leaving the decision up to individual teachers. Turlock High School will be showing the speech in all of their social studies classes for students in 10th, 11th and 12th grades, and in all English, English Language Development and Special Education classes for students in ninth grade. Alternative activities will be available to all students at any Turlock Unified School District site whose parents do not want them to view the speech.
Denair Unified School District Superintendent Ed Parraz sent a memo to district administration stating “I encourage you to watch this address with your students.” He also told teachers to use instructional discretion in determining the curriculum and age appropriateness of the educational materials related to the speech.  
The Denair school district plans on making copies of the speech for teachers if they decide to show the speech at a later date instead of live, said Judy Sylvester, assistant superintendent of business services.  
Other schools were unsure of their plans for Tuesday’s speech because their principal was not present.  
The administrative office staff at Turlock Christian Schools were unable to say whether Obama’s speech would be shown at their three campuses because their superintendent was gone for the day when the Journal called on Friday afternoon.  
Dutcher Middle School and Chatom Union School District are prohibiting teachers from showing the president’s speech.
The decision to ban the speech from both Chatom Union School District campuses was made by school administrators. Due to the Labor Day holiday, there was not enough time to call an emergency board meeting, said Rob Santos, Chatom Union School board member.  
“I am very disappointed to hear that Chatom Union Schools are not getting involved,” Santos said.  
“The president should address students to tell them to stay in school and the students should have a chance to hear it,” he said. “The president is looked at like a role model or hero and most of the time children will listen to them about education over their own parents.
“The president is addressing the students to stay in school,” Santos said. “Only good can come from that.”  
In previous years, both President Ronald Reagan and President George H. W. Bush spoke to students like President Obama will on Tuesday.  
“This is not anything different. It is just a matter of wrapping up a historic speech with a history or writing lesson,” Da Marto said.  
President Obama will be asking students to persevere, set goals and aim to graduate, he said. All these things are what TUSD believes in and it goes along with the district’s strategic plan.  
“This is an opportunity to hear directly from the president which is pretty neat,” Da Marto said.  
To contact Maegan Martens, e-mail mmartens@turlockjournal.com or call 634-9141 ext. 2015.
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