District should be ashamed
September 14, 2009
Editor’s note: This letter was originally addressed to Superintendent Haptonstall and the RE-1 school board:
As I said at the recent school board meeting, Superintendent Sirko of the Aspen schools said it well with regard to President Obama’s speech to school children: “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.”
By deciding not to show the speech at the time it was given, you sent a message to our students not to respect the president, to be afraid of what he might say, and that you don’t need to listen to people you may disagree with. As educators, you should be ashamed of having sent such a message.
Part of a public school education is civics – what could be a better way to learn this than by watching the elected leader of our country speak, live? Students in the RE-1 district voted in school during the 2008 presidential election, a very “political” event, yet you denied them the opportunity to see the person who was elected, the leader of our country, speak.
At the board meeting you decided to “strongly encourage” teachers to show the speech to their students, and you discussed a new policy of allowing elected officials to speak to students without having to know the content of their speeches first, as long as parents have the opportunity to “opt out” their children. A day late and a dollar short. You cannot undo the damage you have done and the message you sent.
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The president is just that – the president of the United States. Whether you agree with him or not, in my opinion you violated the First Amendment and denied the students an amazing opportunity and denied the teachers an amazing opportunity. And by encouraging this “opt out” idea you are going down a slippery slope – will you allow parents to opt their children out of science if they are creationists? Will you allow parents to opt their children out of history class if they disagree with the text of the books and the portrayal of events?
My children will be entering the RE-1 district schools in the next few years, and I hope by that time there is a different attitude regarding free speech, the office of the president, and tolerance.
Mary Elizabeth Geiger