Schools ponder showing Obama speech

September 3, 2009 9:39:42 PM PDT
Schools around Houston are taking steps to prepare for President Obama's speech on education next week, making changes because some parents don't want their children exposed to it. Some districts have sent notices home telling parents about their plans. Now one of those districts Katy ISD is apologizing for its letter.

Katy ISD has a plan for parents to have their children opt out of seeing President Obama's speech, but a line in the letter has some parents upset.

The speech and how the districts are handling it are getting very mixed reactions depending on who you talk to. In Katy, the district says they will make the President's speech accessible to students by showing it in classrooms. It will be a part of each school's instructional plan and they say parents may send a note if they wished their children to opt out of it.

The district sent a letter to parents which read, "allowing parents to opt their children out of listening to our president or any other elected official will be honored as we honor requests of those who desire to opt out of saluting our nation's flag and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance."

That last line offended some in the community here.

"I've got no issue with them doing that. I think he's pretty sincere about his goals in speaking to the children," said parent Danny Neil.

A Katy student, E.J. Olivo, said," The kids don't really seem to be talking about anything at school. They just go on with their business."

His father said," I really don't have much of an opinion. I prefer that they wouldn't and keep it out of the classroom."

Another parent said, "I have no problem with my children watching the president. What we need to do is watch, analyze and above all, we need to pray for the man."

Later Thursday, Katy ISD released a response to apologize for anyone who was offended by the last line of their initial response, saying, "The district has heard from parents and community members who have taken offense to our statement. We accept this as a mistake on our part."

In addition to the apology, they are removing the line from the statement on the district's web site.

The White House will release a text version of President Obama's speech on Monday so that parents and schools can preview it before the president goes on television Tuesday morning.

Other local reaction

Some parents in The Woodlands were handing out flyers as warning to parents at Deretchin Elementary Thursday afternoon. Right now, the school district says children can opt out of President Obama's speech, but some parents argue the president's address doesn't belong inside school at all and they don't want students wasting classroom time when they could be learning whatever's included in their kids' normal classroom curriculum.

But other parents we spoke with say the president's speech could be a valuable motivator.

"If our president wants to address the kids, I feel they should be allowed to participate in it and see what the president has to say," said parent Glenn Stanley.

"I don't feel like he should be able to talk to my daughter without me sitting there," countered Tamara Flook, who opposes the speech.

Late Thursday, the Department of Education rewrote instructions to teachers on student assignments that would follow the president's address. So instead of students writing letters to themselves on how to help the president, the language has been changed to students writing letters on how they can achieve their long and short term education goals.

Fort Bend ISD says students may be excused from watching the president's address if they so wish and arrangements will be made for them.

Governor Perry says he understands parents' concerns, but he also tells The Associated Press that he doesn't think we know enough about what issues President Obama will address.

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