Public Schools Unclear on Obama School Message

Jillian Bandes
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Posted: Sep 04, 2009 12:01 AM
Public Schools Unclear on Obama School Message

With President Obama slated to give a televised address to public school students across the nation on Tuesday, schools in the D.C. area – including the school from which Obama will broadcast the speech – are trying to play their cards as diplomatically as possible.

“Most people I've talked to were saying that they were extremely concerned that schools were being used for political platforms,” said Ivy Allen, the assistant public information officer of Loudoun County Public Schools.

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Loudoun, like Arlington, Fairfax, Frederick, and Prince George Counties – all districts that surround D.C. – have received a landslide of calls complaining about the prospect of their children being instructed to watch a motivational video crafted by the highest Democratic leaders in the U.S. All of the districts are leaving it up to the discretion of teachers as to whether or not Obama’s address will be shown in classrooms.

Allen said that the reason Loudoun has not encouraged teachers to feature the address in their classrooms is because it is occurring on the first day of school; teachers already have many pre-planned activities for the first day and Loudoun didn’t want to impose on the curriculum. But Allen also said he was “thankful” that a record of Obama’s address would be available to view at Whitehouse.gov so that teachers could view it at a later time if they wished.

Allen has “been so busy answering calls from media and parents” that he hadn’t even considered whether or not Obama’s speech was an “awareness activity” like the “mock election” their schools hosted during the last Presidential election.

Paul Regnier, a spokesman for Fairfax County Public Schools, said that his county had “determined that …individual schools will make the decision” as to whether or not to air the address. But it was impossible to find out exactly what sorts of decisions his schools were making, because Fairfax had designed somewhat of a circle of responsibility.

“Any calls a school would get from the media, they would go back to me,” he said.

Regnier also seemed somewhat disappointed at the calls he had received from parents who were unhappy with the prospect of their children watching the video.

“Some people have said they don’t want their children seeing this, despite being the President of the United States,” he said.

Marita Loose, executive director of the communication services division for Frederick County Public Schools, was more diplomatic in her response, which she issued via a printed statement.

“We are neither encouraging nor discouraging teachers to utilize the President’s September 8th address in their classrooms. No assemblies are planned. If a teacher finds the webcast has a natural, appropriate link to a lesson, she or he may integrate the webcast into instruction,” she said. “Parents who do not wish their children to view the speech may request that they participate in an alternative educational activity. Principals are already aware of these procedures.”

Ken Blackstone, for the director of communications services for the Prince William County Public Schools, had a similar crafted opinion.

“There is no mandate or direction to principals or teachers from the PWCS administration to participate in this address from the President. Like many other similar information items we receive from the U.S. Department of Education, the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE), or other education-related organizations, they are passed along FYI as a potential instructional resource that teachers may choose to use if it is appropriate for their instruction and fits their lesson plans,” he said.