No students in Lawrence public schools will be forced to watch President Obama’s televised back-to-school speech Tuesday.
But it’ll be available — provided the teacher wants to plug into the live telecast and a student’s parents haven’t voiced any objections.
“It’s like when the inauguration happens every four years: We offer that as an opportunity, on how that can be viewed,” said Kim Bodensteiner, the district’s chief academic officer. “But we have not required it.”
The speech, expected to last for 15 to 20 minutes, will be shown in schools via Cable in the Classroom at 11 a.m. Lawrence time from Wakefield High School, just outside Washington, D.C.
The very prospect of Obama speaking directly to students, teachers and educational staffers in the nation’s schools has stirred reactions ranging from embraces of whole-hearted support to charges of agenda-pushing politics.
In Lawrence, Bodensteiner and others are viewing the speech for what it’s been billed: a chance for the president to “challenge students to work hard, set educational goals, and take responsibility for their learning,” Bodensteiner said, in an e-mail to principals and staffers.
Also: “He will also call for a shared responsibility and commitment on the part of students, parents and educators to ensure that every child in every school receives the best education possible so they can compete in the global economy for good jobs and live rewarding and productive lives as American citizens.”
Lawrence teachers are welcome to show the speech in their classrooms, if they so choose, she said. And principals in each school must accommodate students whose parents don’t want their kids watching the speech, provided parents make those concerns known to the school or teacher ahead of time.
“I think people have strong opinions about politics and about issues that are in front of the country right now, and may have strong opinions about whatever president is in office,” Bodensteiner said. “We’re approaching this as a nonpartisan opportunity, and certainly don’t look at it as endorsing politics in one way or another.
“We look at it as an opportunity to talk about how a president is elected, what the president does, what their role is in encouraging students to work hard and get an education. If that’s his message — come to school, do your best work, be prepared for the kinds of things you want to do after you leave our schools — that just reinforces what we like our students to do.”
Robert Gibbs, a White House spokesman, has noted that Presidents Ronald Reagan and the first George Bush had delivered similar speeches to students. And while Gibbs acknowledged that some districts already had decided against allowing the speech to be shown — after hearing complaints from parents — he declined to speculate on their motivations.
“Look,” he told reports in Washington, “there are some school districts that won’t let you read ‘Huckleberry Finn.’ ”
Lisa Thompson, principal at Langston Hughes School, figures that many of her school’s 512 students will get a chance to see the speech, especially students in third through sixth grades. Some parents also have inquired about whether they might be able to come to school to watch the speech with their children, and that’s fine, too.
Others parents have expressed concerns about their children being required to take part in the speech’s “extended activities,” as offered by the White House, or might be assigned to “write a paper about how much they like Obama, or how much they admire him,” Thompson said.
Parents needn’t worry, Thompson said, because that’s not the plan. Students don’t even need to see the speech, if a parent so chooses.
“We won’t hold it against anybody if they don’t want to watch it,” she said. “We’ll let them go to the library and read. We encourage kids to read 20 minutes a day, so they can do that then.”
Text of the e-mail from Kim Bodensteiner, district chief academic officer, regarding the back-to-school speech
President to give national speech to school students
This link (http://www.ed.gov/admins/lead/academic/bts.html) contains information regarding President Barack Obama's speech to America's students on September 8. It is reported that he will deliver a national address directly to students on the importance of education. The President will challenge students to work hard, set educational goals, and take responsibility for their learning. He will also call for a shared responsibility and commitment on the part of students, parents and educators to ensure that every child in every school receives the best education possible so they can compete in the global economy for good jobs and live rewarding and productive lives as American citizens.
Teachers and principals may choose to air the speech. This is not a district required activity. The ESDC has received a few parent calls asking how to go about opting children out of watching the speech. We are directing parents to contact their child's teacher(s) and/or principal to determine if the speech will be shown in any of their classes. If parents wish to opt students out, please ensure that an alternate location is available for students during the speech.
The speech will be broadcast live on the White House Web site at 12:00 noon eastern standard time on September 8.