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Students can opt out of Obama speech
[September 05, 2009]

Students can opt out of Obama speech

Sep 04, 2009 (The Daily News - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- President Barack Obama will broadcast a back-to-school message next week, and local schools are giving parents the option to choose an alternative activity for their children.

Obama's message is slated for 11 a.m. Tuesday, with the president "challeng(ing) students to work hard, set educational goals, and take responsibility for their learning," according to a statement from U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Schools have also been encouraged to create lesson plans around the 15- to 20-minute address.

Kentucky Department of Education Commissioner Terry Holliday told superintendents Thursday that parents should be provided the opportunity to "opt out" their children from watching the address by providing an alternative activity during that time.

Local school officials said they have received several phone calls from parents asking how the situation will be handled.

As some national conservative commentators have questioned Obama's agenda, Warren County interim Superintendent Tim Murley said the district office received about 25 phone calls in the past few days about the speech.

Murley sent a letter to principals saying that teachers who intend to show the broadcast or Webcast should send a letter home to parents in advance to afford them an opportunity to request in writing that an alternative activity take place for their student.

"Although the event appears to be non-partisan and is designed to motivate students to do well in school, parental concerns will be addressed," Murley said in his letter. "Any parent who requests that their child not watch the broadcast or Webcast should make the request in writing and submit the request to their child's teacher prior to the event. That request will be honored." Officials from Warren County and Bowling Green Independent Schools said they are not sure how many teachers intend to turn Obama on, as the address falls during most students' lunch periods.

Leslie Peek, public relations coordinator for Bowling Green schools, said the district received a few phone calls asking whether students will be required to watch the president's speech. The district is telling parents to contact their child's teacher if they would prefer to opt out of the viewing.

Similar efforts are being made in other school districts in Kentucky. Jefferson County Superintendent Sheldon Berman has reportedly encouraged schools to take part in the "rare opportunity" to complement social studies classes while still providing the alternative to students.

In 1991, President George H.W. Bush addressed students in a speech, but local school officials said they cannot remember if viewing permission was sought by parents on that occasion.

Murley said parents always have the option to request an alternative during any speaker or presenter and doesn't want students who opt out to feel they are being punished.

"We would do that with anything," he said.

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