Re-1 OKs policy in response to Obama speech flap
November 13, 2009
GLENWOOD SPRINGS – A new Roaring Fork School District Re-1 policy that grew out of a controversial decision not to allow a speech by President Barack Obama to be aired live in classrooms in September is now in effect.
The Re-1 school board on Wednesday adopted the policy authorizing a “statement of notice” to be sent to staff and parents of children in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt schools at the beginning of each school year.
It states, “The board will allow this type of unpreviewed presentation only to a person holding the office of the president of the United States or the office of governor of Colorado.”
Any parents who do not want their student to take part in such a presentation, live or taped, must submit a written exemption request to the school principal, asking that the student be excused.
The school will agree to provide an optional educational activity for any students who are excused from such events.
“This way it shifts the burden to the parent, and not the district,” school board member Bill Lamont said during Wednesday’s school board meeting.
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The new policy is the result of a Sept. 4 directive to school principals by Re-1 Superintendent Judy Haptonstall not to air a Sept. 8 address by President Obama to the nation’s school children.
The move came as concerns were raised nationally by conservative groups that there could be political overtones in the president’s speech.
Haptonstall said she fielded a handful of phone calls from parents expressing such concerns, but ultimately employed an existing district policy where any outside presentation to students must be previewed in advance.
In response, the White House released a transcript of the president’s remarks on Sunday of Labor Day weekend, two days before the speech. But by then, Re-1’s decision had been made.
In her directive, Haptonstall did say that teachers could show a taped version of the speech at a later time, as long as parents were given the opportunity to have their students opt out.
The decision caused a backlash of letters to the editor and comments at a school board meeting that week from parents and others saying the decision was wrong, and that the issue had become politically motivated.
The new Re-1 policy has been refined over the course of several meetings. It says that the district superintendent will make a reasonable effort to notify parents and students of an anticipated presentation by either the president or the governor.
“This notice will be in addition to the master notice given at the beginning of the school year,” the policy states. “However, the board declares that it is the student’s and parent’s responsibility to make certain the student has filed a written exemption request in order for the student to be exempt from attending the presentation.”
It also states that simultaneous broadcast of a speech may not be possible in some schools due to technological limitations.
In any case, “The board reserves the right to control access to students and staff at any event at any time,” the policy concludes.
The policy passed on a 4-1 vote. School board member Debbie Bruell voted against it, saying the policy wording was contradictory in some instances and needed to be refined further.