Obama’s speech recorded, placed in media centers
Members of the Lee County School Board addressed the district’s controversial decision not to broadcast President Barack Obama’s address to students.
The president’s speech, delivered at noon Tuesday from Arlington, Va., stressed that students take responsibility for their education by doing homework, listening in class and, ultimately, setting goals for themselves.
On Thursday the district stated that it would not air the speech live, and that the school day would carry on as any other. Instead, it was recorded, reviewed for its instructional applicability and was placed within media centers to be used for supplemental materials.
Critics of the planned speech were concerned last week that the speech was a ploy by the Obama administration to push an agenda on young students. In response to critics the White House released the text of the speech before Tuesday.
Superintendent James Browder, who first heard about the live speech Wednesday, said he made the decision not to broadcast the speech because the district was given such late notice.
“The decision I made, based on the instructional day, wasn’t about politics, it was about what it would do to the instructional day,” he said. “Instead of having chaos in the schools today, we had a normal day of instruction.”
Browder said his decision was to protect the district’s 5,000 teachers and 100 principals from criticism, while maintaining the academic integrity of the day.
School Board Member Robert Chilmonik said he was concerned about how the decision not to air the speech divided the community. He proposed that the district show the recording Friday to students, but other members of the board did not agree.
“The thing I am concerned about is this decision has to be made at this level,” said Chilmonik, who wrote in an e-mail to the community and media that the decision to not show the speech was not brought before the school board.
School Board Member Elinor Scricca said she supported Browder’s decision to not show Obama’s speech.
“He did what was expected of him to do,” she said. “I read the text yesterday afternoon and, personally, it was something I would do in front of a group of children or students.”
Scricca suggested that the district find a way for students to opt out of speeches or presentations in the future. Vice Chairman Steve Teuber said if the president delivers a speech no child should be allowed to opt out.
“The part I resent terribly is that it has been politicized,” Scricca said.
Members of the school board also said they were concerned about what may have happened to some students if the speech had been broadcast in every school. Specifically, how students may have been singled out politically if they opted out of watching it.
They said the controversy stemmed from poor planning by the White House and U.S. Department of Education who failed to notify school districts in enough time to send out permission slips or releases.
The district will post the video of the speech on its Web site, www.leeschools.net, and it will be aired on Comcast TV99.