Janesville students to view Obama speech

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Saturday, August 28, 2010
— Janesville public school students will see President Obama’s back-to-school speech Tuesday, Sept. 14.

“I am looking forward to everyone participating in the event this year,” Superintendent Karen Schulte said after hearing the advice of five school board members at a meeting Friday.

The board took no formal action, but Schulte asked for their advice because the president’s speech last year spawned controversy.

Parents will be allowed to keep their children out of school for the speech or to have them get an alternative assignment at school, Schulte said, but she’d rather have the child in school.

The board members—even staunch conservative Bill Sodemann—seemed to agree that no matter who the president is, it’s appropriate for students to hear the speech.

“It’s our president. It’s our country,” board member Greg Ardrey said.

Obama last year urged students to study hard and stay in school, among other positive messages.

Board member Lori Stottler suggested elementary schools view the speech at an assembly rather than in classrooms so that it would be less obvious which students didn’t see the speech.

Board member Karl Dommershausen said it bothered him that parents would be given the option to opt out.

Opting out makes it political, Dommershausen said, and that shouldn’t happen, no matter who the president is.

“It’s the position (of president) you’re respecting,” Dommershausen said.

“He’s in there telling kids they should do their homework so they can succeed in life,” said board member Kristin Hesselbacher. “Isn’t that what the nine of us (board members) are about?”

Sodemann compared Obama’s speech with Schulte, hypothetically, giving a back-to-school speech.

“Would they be allowed to opt out of that?,” Sodemann asked. “But they would (be able to opt out) for the president of the United States?”

The White House announced this week that the speech will be Sept. 14 and said more details would be forthcoming.

Last year, school officials had little advance warning, and the nationwide controversy took many by surprise.

Schulte in 2009 issued a directive, saying students could see the speech only if teachers sent home a letter asking parents’ permission.

Teachers had little time to get a letter out before the speech, but it was recorded for use later. At least a few high school teachers showed it live.

Schulte said at the time that she imposed the restrictions because she had heard threats of pickets, parents pulling their children out of school and other “veiled threats.”

Last updated: 2:36 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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