Douglas County school allows parents to opt out of letting their kids watch President Obama's speech to the nation's schoolchildren

"No, ma'am. I won't be trying to turn your child into a Communist...."
"No, ma'am. I won't be trying to turn your child into a Communist...."
Courtesy of the White House

Last week, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan sent a letter to principals across the country, on view later in this post, informing them that President Barack Obama would be delivering a speech to the nation's schoolchildren on Tuesday, September 8. Duncan wrote, "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."

Shockingly controversial, right? But apparently the very thought of Obama speaking to their kids without someone nearby to tell them not to pay attention to the bad man trying to bankrupt the treasury, undermine our healthcare system and coddle terrorists determined to destroy the American way of life has caused consternation among numerous parents in Douglas County.

Susan Meek, spokeswoman for the Douglas County School District, confirms that her office received enough complaints on the subject that staffers eventually issued a communique to schools on the subject. Meek says the decision to show the speech, and to whom, will be "site-based," meaning each principal can determine his or her own policy. In the case of Staci McCormack, principal at Arrowood Elementary in Highlands Ranch, she sent an e-mail to parents earlier today (it's reproduced in its entirety below), acknowledging that she'd also heard from some parents unhappy at the prospect of their children seeing the Obama speech. To address their concerns, McCormack went on, "only a few classrooms at AWE will be offering the children an opportunity to view the President's speech" -- and anyone who doesn't want them to participate can opt out, just as they can when the topic is sex education.

The Obama administration is touting the September 8 address as the first-ever presidential speech aimed directly at schoolchildren. That's debatable: In October 2001, President George W. Bush called on every American child to donate a dollar each to needy kids in Afghanistan. But the scheduling of the speech during school hours presents a new twist, and while Meek shies away from characterizing the motivations of callers, she does concede that "I think for political reasons, some parents have concerns about their child watching the President speak."

Meek insists, however, that despite Douglas County's reputation for conservatism, the calls her office has received haven't all been in opposition to schools airing the speech. "Our community is made up of different political views," she notes. "I'm sure the calls from parents who are expressing concern are made up from one group. But we've also received calls from individuals who would like to have it shown in their child's classroom."

Thus far, Meek hasn't heard from any pro-Obama parents upset about the opt-out policy. As for those on the opposite side of the issue, she says "most people feel comfortable once they understand what the process is."

And that, to borrow a phrase associated with a previous administration, they can just say "no."

Below, see the e-mail from Arrowood Elementary principal McCormack, followed by the letter to principals from Secretary of Education Duncan:

Parents,

We have mailed the individual CSAP scores to your homes. Please look for their arrival within the next few days.

On September 8, 2009, President Obama will be addressing the children on TV. Some of you have called our office asking if we will be showing the presentation and you have asked that your child not be in the room if we do show the presentation.

Only a few classrooms at AWE will be offering the children an opportunity to view the President's speech. If a child chooses not to watch the speech, the child will be sent to our media center to engage in an individual literacy activity directed by the teacher. You will be informed this week by your child's teacher if they will have the option of watching the presentation. After the viewing, there will be no discussion held in the classroom. The follow - up conversation may happen at home with parents.

Thanks for your continued involvement,

Staci McCormack, Principal

Dear Principal:

In a recent interview with student reporter, Damon Weaver, President Obama announced that on September 8 -- the first day of school for many children across America -- 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.

Since taking office, the President has repeatedly focused on education, even as the country faces two wars, the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression and major challenges on issues like energy and health care. The President believes that education is a critical part of building a new foundation for the American economy. Educated people are more active civically and better informed on issues affecting their lives, their families and their futures.

This is the first time an American president has spoken directly to the nation's school children about persisting and succeeding in school. We encourage you to use this historic moment to help your students get focused and begin the school year strong. I encourage you, your teachers, and students to join me in watching the President deliver this address on Tuesday, September 8, 2009. It will be broadcast live on the White House website www.whitehouse.gov 12:00 noon eastern standard time.

In advance of this address, we would like to share the following resources: a menu of classroom activities for students in grades preK-6 and for students in grades 7-12. These are ideas developed by and for teachers to help engage students and stimulate discussion on the importance of education in their lives. We are also staging a student video contest on education. Details of the video contest will be available on our website www.ed.gov in the coming weeks.

On behalf of all Americans, I want to thank our educators who do society's most important work by preparing our children for work and for life. No other task is more critical to our economic future and our social progress. I look forward to working with you in the months and years ahead to continue improving the quality of public education we provide all of our children.

Sincerely,

Arne Duncan


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