School Districts in Six States to Refrain from Showing Presidential Address Next Week

Sep 3, 2009 7:22pm

Jake Tapper and Karen Travers report:

White House officials seemed to be caught flat-footed by the response to what they say was a simple back to school address by President Obama to students across the nation — and has turned into a firestorm.

The White House now admits that one of the lessons plans surrounding the speech was written clumsily, subjecting it to misinterpretation, and had to be re-written. 

Some parents are talking about keeping their kids from school on tuesday to avoid the president's remarks. The White House says it will release a copy of the text of the president's address on monday so parents and educators can see that the message is entirely about learning, staying in school and taking personal responsibility.

What seems to be drawing the most ire are optional preparatory materials from the Department of Education asking students to "Write letters to themselves about what they can do to help the president."

That has now been changed for students to "Write letters to themselves about how they can achieve their short-term and long-term education goals"

But that has not stopped concern and even outrage in some school districts across the country.
 
In the Douglas County School District in central Colorado, the phones have been ringing off the hook with with upset parents.

"We've probably had about 40 to 50 calls today and probably about 10 or 12 emails today from parents," said Susan Meek of the Douglas County school system.
 
Some school districts in Texas, Illinois, Virginia, Wisconsin, Missouri and Minnesota are even refusing to show the president's address.

So what did that original statement mean?

Heather Higginbottom, deputy director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, said it was "inartfully worded."

"We changed it. The whole lesson plan speaks to setting goals in increasing their educational achievement," she said.

"The goal of this speech is to encourage students to set goals for themselves," said Higginbottom. "We have a 30 percent drop out rate in this country. We want that reduced."

There is some historical precedent for presidents speaking to students in nationally televised addresses. President George H. W. Bush did so in 1991 and President Ronald Reagan even talked politics with students in 1988.

Nonetheless charges from Republican officials that President Obama is seeking to indoctrinate students — unsupported by any real evidence — have been flying.

Florida GOP chairman Jim Greer, who this week called President Obama’s planned speech to school children an attempt to “indoctrinate America’s children to his socialist agenda,” told ABC News' Steve Portnoy that  he’s pleased with the change in the Department of Education document.

Greer said "this administration has been very aggressive and very vocal of their vision of what America should look like in the future and that is not my and my wife’s vision of what America should look like.."

He said "this White House has been very diabolical in creating outlets to communicate with young people."

White House officials call such charges baseless.
 
"We need to be rising above this," said Higginbottom. "When the president goes out to talk to students about education, this shouldn't be a tool for the right wing."

- Jake Tapper and Karen Travers

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