Student safety trumped Obama speech

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Thursday, September 10, 2009
— Superintendent Karen Schulte said threats from parents were one of the reasons she took a cautious approach to showings of President Obama's speech to schoolchildren Tuesday.

Principals were told late on Sept. 3 that teachers could show the speech Tuesday if they got parental permission and if they set up alternative activities for students whose parents didn't want them to see it.

The prospect of the president speaking directly to children enflamed right-wing pundits and others, who said it was political and urged parents nationwide to keep their children at home Tuesday if their schools would be showing the speech.

Schulte said district officials heard from parents who threatened to do just that. A few other callers threatened to picket, and there were "veiled threats" along the lines of "you'd better not," Schulte said.

"I felt like I really needed to go down the road of safety, keeping as much disruption out of schools as possible," Schulte said Wednesday.

A few teachers in the high schools showed the speech live, officials said.

A parent of a Janesville student who didn't see the speech at school was not happy.

Dan Banda said proper respect for the office of president means the speech should have been shown.

Banda said his family doesn't always agree with the president, but "when the president talks, we sit down and listen, whether we voted for the guy or not. We have to know what he's saying so we can understand what he's trying to do. Ignorance doesn't work. Imagining what he's saying or listening to third parties doesn't work."

Schulte acknowledged teachers had little time to arrange for permission slips.

She said her office had little time in which to make a decision.

The White House sent out an advisory to news media Sept. 2 about the speech, prompting news stories over the next several days.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan had sent a letter to principals about it Aug. 26, but Schulte said she hadn't seen that.

"I felt the speech was very important, but I think that safety trumps that," Schulte said.

Schulte said she also didn't want to issue a directive that would disrupt lessons teachers had planned for Tuesday, which has been a complaint of teachers over the years.

"I wanted to show respect for teachers by not mandating this," Schulte said.

Banda said an opportunity was lost.

"Great teachers use this material to teach," Banda said. "It could be first grade or 12th grade, it doesn't matter. It's an opportunity. It's a civics lesson if nothing else."

That civics lesson could still occur. The district recorded the speech, and teachers may use it in the future, Schulte said.

Last updated: 11:25 am Thursday, December 13, 2012

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