Roaring Fork School District just says no to Obama speech
Students in Roaring Fork District Re-1 schools were not allowed to join their counterparts at Garfield District Re-2 and Aspen schools in hearing President Barack Obama’s live address to America’s schoolchildren on Tuesday.
The decision by Re-1 administrators to prohibit teachers from airing or video streaming the president’s speech live came last Thursday after the district office fielded “probably 10 to 15 phone calls” from parents wondering what the policy would be, according to Re-1 Superintendent Judy Haptonstall.
“Some of the schools got calls as well,” she said. “I can understand parents’ concerns about their kids being made to watch something that they didn’t approve of.
“I wouldn’t invite anyone to speak in our schools without knowing beforehand what the message was going to be,” Haptonstall added.
Nationally, after complaints started flooding in from across the country about possible political overtones in the president’s address, the White House prereleased the speech so that school districts and parents could review the material.
In his speech, timed with the traditional post-Labor Day return to school, Obama calls on students to take responsibility for their own education and to take learning seriously.
Given the timing with the Labor Day holiday and no school on Monday, Re-1 had to make a decision before the content of the speech was released, Haptonstall said.
“We did tell teachers that if they wanted to tape the speech today [Tuesday] and then, with parent permission, have their classes watch it later this week, they could do that,” she said.
Haptonstall said she called other school districts to find out what their policies were before the decision was made.
However, the districts on either side of Re-1, Garfield Re-2 and the Aspen School District, did allow principals and teachers the flexibility to have students listen to the president’s address and incorporate it into the day’s learning.
“We asked that it be treated like any other external media source that’s shown in the classroom,” Re-2 Director of Districtwide Services Theresa Hamilton said.
Primarily, that means it had to fit in with standards guidelines, she said. So, it could be tied in with an English or social studies class, for instance, but not math or science.
“We basically left it up to the building administrators to decide how their school was going to handle it,” Hamilton said. “Some administrators made the blanket decision not to show it live.”
If any teachers were planning to air the address, parents were to be notified so that they could have their children opt out if they wished.
“Alternative exercises were to be offered for the students not participating,” Hamilton said.
“We did have parents call who were concerned about what out policy would be,” she said. She added that Re-2 teachers may also integrate the president’s remarks after the fact, again as long as it conforms to the standards guidelines.
Aspen School District Superintendent Diana Sirko also addressed parents who were concerned about the speech, according to an article in the Aspen Daily News on Monday.
The district did allow teachers and students the opportunity to watch the speech.
“When the president of the United States wants to address our students about the importance of school and the value of personal goal setting, we feel out of respect for the office and the message, that we should allow it,” Sirko wrote to parents.
She also noted that President George H.W. Bush addressed the students of the nation in 1991 about the value of school.
“I wish this whole thing hadn’t become so strangely political,” Haptonstall said of Re-1’s decision, adding that at least one school board member had objected to the decision.
The matter is expected to garner some discussion at this evening’s regular school board meeting. The meeting begins at 4 p.m. this afternoon at the District Office in Glenwood Springs.