Some Utah parents have already made up their minds about a speech President Barack Obama plans to give to students about the importance of education: They don't want their children watching it.
In the speech, which will be broadcast live online at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, Obama will challenge students to work hard, set educational goals and take responsibility for their learning, according to the U.S. Department of Education, which has urged schools to join in the "historic" event, even providing age-appropriate classroom activities.
But in Utah and nationwide, conservative voices are saying they don't want their kids "forced" to watch the speech, fearing it will eat up precious class time with political or policy messages. Officials from the Alpine, Jordan, Canyons and Granite school districts say they have fielded complaints from concerned parents.
Nationally, the Virginia State Superintendent is urging schools "to make reasonable accommodations for students whose parents may object." In Texas, parents are threatening to boycott schools, according to The Houston Chronicle . And in Florida, the head of the state Republican Party labeled the address an inappropriate "indoctrination" to the President's "socialist" agenda.
Utah school districts are taking precautions.
Granite, Jordan, Salt Lake City and Davis districts are sending letters to principals saying that if they plan to broadcast the speech, they should warn parents and provide alternate activities for students who don't want to watch it. Canyons is sending home letters to parents today along with waivers they can sign if they don't want their children to watch the speech. Canyons only plans to show the live speech to secondary students because of district-wide testing in the elementary schools, said Jennifer Toomer-Cook, district spokeswoman.
Majestic Elementary PTA president Jennifer Walters doesn't see what all the fuss is about. She said she's pleased and surprised that the president would take time out of his busy schedule to address kids.
"Anytime a president gives a speech, kids should probably hear it, at least the older ones," said the West Jordan mom. "I'm all for anything that makes kids feel good about school."
Utah districts, however, are taking special care, partly because of controversy that arose this week after a Farmington school showed students a video, unrelated to Obama's upcoming speech, that featured celebrities making pledges to Obama and the world. Some parents at that school were offended, saying the video contained liberal, inappropriate or disagreeable messages. School districts are trying to make sure educators and parents know Obama's Tuesday speech has nothing to do with the "I Pledge" video.
It's uncertain how many Utah schools will telecast Tuesday's speech.
But "many parents and media members may be paying close attention," warned Salt Lake district spokesman Jason Olsen Wednesday in a letter to principals. If parents have complained, Olsen says he isn't aware of it.
That's true for Davis district, too, said spokesman Christopher Williams.
Granite, however, has received at least a dozen complaints from parents, said district spokesman Ben Horsley. "We don't believe that's a political message. It's a positive message our students need to hear."
The Alpine district has also received more than a dozen complaints, said district spokeswoman Rhonda Bromley.
"Parents, of course, at any time can excuse their kids from school for any reason," Bromley said. "Certainly, though, as part of social studies curriculum we talk about the role of the federal government, talk about the role of the president and we talk about the fact that we respect the role of the president."
Gayle Ruzicka, president of the conservative Utah Eagle Forum, said she's heard from more than 20 upset parents. Ruzicka said she doesn't see a problem with the speech if it really is just about education, but if it carries other messages, that's a problem.
"I do believe whoever the president is that's speaking to school children, parents do need to find out what the speech is about," Ruzicka said. "Is it going to be political speech or is it going to be a patriotic speech? We have an obligation to our children to find out what they're being taught."
One remedy for worried parents, said Ruzicka, would be to go to their children's schools and watch the speech with them. She said the Utah Eagle Forum will also likely send out a letter letting parents know about the speech.
Suzanne Walker, Midvale Elementary PTA president, said Obama's address doesn't worry her. But she says last week's "I Pledge" video exemplifies why parents should be involved in schools.
"I agree with a lot of what Obama has planned. But asking my kids to pledge and do things that I don't support, I have a problem with that," Walker said.
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