Schools offering choice on whether to view Obama speech


By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer

Controversy over President Barack Obama’s speech to school children today is making for extra work at Clovis schools.

Superintendent Rhonda Seidenwurm said she has heard concerns from parents on both sides of the issue.

“We were caught a little off guard that there would be any kind of reaction.”

“(But) at the same time, parents are their child’s primary educators so we always try to respect their values.”

In response, Clovis Municipal Schools has decided to give students and families a choice.

Clovis school children and their parents will have the option to listen or not, Seidenwurm said Monday.

Elementary school principals can decide if they will broadcast the speech to students. Teachers in secondary schools have the authority to decide on a per-class basis, Seidenwurm said.

In cases where a school or teacher chooses not to play the speech, Seidenwurm said it will be available on DVD in school libraries.

In his speech that drew fire even before he delivered it, Obama tells the nation’s schoolchildren he “expects great things from each of you.”

“At the end of the day, we can have the most dedicated teachers, the most supportive parents, and the best schools in the world,” Obama says. “And none of it will matter unless all of you fulfill your responsibilities.”

The White House posted Obama’s remarks on its Web site Monday. The president is scheduled to deliver the talk from a school in suburban Arlington, Va.

Former Clovis Mayor David Lansford said the Obama speech is politically motivated and inappropriate for students. He said schools should take a stand and not to play the speech.

“Why would we want to impose a political environment onto our children? I think its inappropriate,” Lansford said.

“It’s an intrusion into the delicate, nurturing environment of our young people. I think our president’s motives are much more than to stay in school.”

Lansford said a curriculum being disseminated with the speech encourages students to buy two books written by Obama and is an attempt at forwarding his beliefs through children.

“(He’s telling students) to go buy (his books) and make money for the president while he’s speaking on the public dollar. It’s just inappropriate for any politician… Our superintendent needs to recognize that and stop it,” he said.

Several conservative organizations have accused the president of trying to pitch his arguments too aggressively in a local-education setting.

White House officials, including Education Secretary Arne Duncan, said the allegations are silly.

In his remarks, Obama tells young people all the work of parents, educators and others won’t matter “unless you show up for those schools, pay attention to those teachers.”

Mayor Gayla Brumfield said she sees no problem with the speech.

“I think that when a leader wants to speak to kids about staying in school and being successful… any time you can encourage kids and if it helps one kid stay in school and graduate then it’s worth it,” she said.

“I personally don’t have a problem with the way that it’s being approached, knowing that people can do what they want to do and I think the schools have handled it very well.”

Former Republican Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush delivered similar speeches to students, the White House has said.

Schools don’t have to show the speech. And some districts have decided not to, partly in response to concerns from parents.

Kim Runyan a Clovis Republican, said she dislikes the time the speech will take from already stressed schools with tight schedules, but her primary concern is with the curriculum.

Runyan said she feels it pressures young children to believe they need to help the country.

“When your in second grade, you shouldn’t feel like you have to do something for the country, you should feel like ‘I need to make it across the monkey bars today’,” she said.

Recognizing the originally planned curriculum has been changed, Runyan said she still questions the motives.

“The curriculum that goes along with it puts pressure on children and it’s not about staying in school, it’s about community service. School is for education and for me that kind of pressure that was in the original curriculum was crossing the line,” she said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.