Re-1 school board gets earful over Obama speech decision
September 10, 2009
GLENWOOD SPRINGS – What could have been a learning opportunity for students ended up being a lesson for Roaring Fork School District Re-1 officials over how to handle future speeches in schools by any elected official, whether it’s a local mayor or the president of the United States.
“We need a policy that clearly states that any elected official should have the freedom to speak in the public schools. It’s a matter of respect,” Re-1 school board member Bill Lamont said Wednesday after the board and administrators heard criticism from parents and others over the decision to disallow the live showing of President Obama’s address to school children on Tuesday.
If a parent doesn’t want their child to participate for whatever reason, they should be allowed opt out and an alternative activity should be provided during that time, Lamont said.
A group of about 10 parents showed up at Wednesday’s meeting, saying the decision by Re-1 Superintendent Judy Haptonstall not to allow the speech to be aired live was ill-conceived and poorly communicated to parents. Some board members also said they felt left out of the decision loop.
“I don’t think this is about politics – this is about supporting the president of the United States,” said David McConaughy of Glenwood Springs, who has a first grade student at Sopris Elementary School.
“It never really occurred to me that this so-called ‘controversy’ would be an issue in our valley,” he said. “All the president wanted was to have a teachable moment with school children. This was a horrible decision for the district to make.”
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Michael Tucker of Carbondale recalled going to school in New Jersey and saluting an American flag every morning with a picture of President Ronald Reagan next to it.
“Even though I knew he was cutting funding for my school, I still saluted,” Tucker said. “To have you decide that our president is not worth respect, and to allow a small minority of extremists get between the president and his message to students, is horrendous.”
Peter Tibbetts, also of Carbondale, said that even if the president had talked about the benefits of Communism, or racism, or intolerance, it would have been an opportunity to have a discussion with students about how there are different opinions on that.
“I felt comfortable that our president wasn’t going to say anything like that,” Tibbetts said. “By choosing not to show [the speech], you made it a political issue.”
Haptonstall advised school principals and teachers at schools in Glenwood Springs, Carbondale and Basalt on Thursday that they should not participate in the live broadcast of the president’s address. Instead, if they wanted to tape it and show it later in the week or some other time, that would be fine, she advised.
Re-1’s decision was counter to policies in the neighboring Garfield Re-2 (New Castle, Silt and Rifle schools) and Aspen school districts, where teachers were allowed the flexibility to incorporate the live speech into the day’s learning.
When the White House announced the upcoming speech last week, some conservative groups objected saying Obama’s address could have a political bent. In response, the White House made the speech available for preview a day before the address.
In his address, Obama called on students to take responsibility for their own education and to finish school despite any challenges they may face.
Haptonstall said she made her decision after realizing how much of a political hot button the issue had become. Some parents did call with concerns about their children being made to watch the president’s address, she said, but that wasn’t the reason for her decision.
She said she felt the best way to handle it was to avoid the controversy surrounding the live broadcast, but allow teachers to tape the speech and incorporate it into their classroom teaching later.
“I tried to come down middle of the road on this,”Haptonstall said at Wednesday’s school board meeting.
The school board asked Haptonstall to inform school principals to encourage teachers to show the taped address to as many students as possible. If some parents want their children to opt out of the viewing, they will be allowed to do so.
Two area charter schools also differed in their approach to the president’s live address. The Re-1 charter Carbondale Community School did air the speech in some classrooms, while the state charter Ross Montessori School in Carbondale did not allow the airing.
“A couple of our classrooms aired it,”CCS Principal Tom Penzel said. “A couple of parents said they were happy we showed it.”