Re-1 crafting new speech policy
September 24, 2009
GLENWOOD SPRINGS – A proposed new Roaring Fork School District Re-1 policy related to speeches directed at students by elected officials, such as the president or governor, could involve the school board more directly.
But a majority of school board members said Wednesday that the superintendent should also have the discretion and authority to make a decision whether to allow a speech such as President Barack Obama’s Sept. 8 live broadcast to the nation’s school children, if it’s not feasible to poll the board because of time constraints.
“Sometimes she’s [Re-1 Superintendent Judy Haptonstall] going to be on the hot seat. She will continue to be, and I don’t want that to change,” board member Myles Rovig said, adding that’s the nature of her job.
Haptonstall, in response to calls from a handful of parents and concerns nationally about the content of Obama’s speech, decided on the Friday before Labor Day weekend not to allow Re-1 schools in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt to air the speech live.
Instead, teachers were advised they could tape the speech to show to students later, once a procedure could be put in place to allow parents to opt students out if they chose. Some schools did in fact replay Obama’s speech in a variety of settings, from classrooms to open houses, Haptonstall said at Wednesday’s meeting.
Neighboring school districts did allow the speech to be aired live in schools, or, in the case of Rifle, Silt and New Castle schools, the decision was left up to individual school principals.
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Some districts around the state adjusted their stance once the White House released the content of the speech on Labor Day Monday.
“Most people I’ve talked to appreciated that [Haptonstall] had to make a decision, and that she made a decision,” Rovig said.
He agreed, however, that speeches such as Obama’s where an elected official seeks simultaneous access to students districtwide, should involve the school board.
Board member Debbie Bruell said she’s concerned that whatever policy arises out of the situation not be the district’s only response to the outpouring of criticism that has appeared in a barrage of recent letters to the editor in local newspapers over Haptonstall’s decision.
“It is the role of the board to provide guidance and oversight, and I don’t think we did that in this case,” she said. “I also think we could have done a better job of communicating the decision to parents.”
Under the new policy, at least the governor and the president would be granted special privilege to address students without prior approval.
“It’s a matter of respect for those elected offices that I think should be there,” said school board member Bill Lamont, who suggested drafting a policy on the matter.
The policy could require that the content of speeches be submitted beforehand. It may also require that the speech be bipartisan in nature and relevant to all age groups. There would also be limits on speeches given by elected officials within six months of an election.
“Parents would need to be informed of the event and have the opportunity to excuse their child from attending,” Haptonstall wrote in a board memo. “Schools would be required to establish another setting or location for the students who were not participating.”
Participation by students in such events would never be mandated, she wrote. The policy proposal will be put into draft form and considered at future board meetings. The Re-1 board next meets on Oct. 7.