Adults shrug at Obama pep talk

Outcry over president's back-to-school speech noticeably absent after last year's protests.

Staff WriterSeptember 11, 2010 

  • President Barack Obama will give his second annual back-to-school speech at 1 p.m. Tuesday at a magnet school in Philadelphia. The speech will be streamed online to schools throughout the nation, with individual principals deciding whether to show it to students. Go to www.whitehouse.gov/back-to-school for more information on the speech.

Amid less controversy than last year, Triangle students will hear a back-to-school message Tuesday from President Barack Obama.

The lead-up to last year's speech by Obama drew calls from some Republicans that schools not air what they argued would be a political talk by the Democratic president. But after last year's speech turned out to be a pep talk about staying in school, calls for schools to forgo showing this year's speech have subsided.

During last fall's election campaign, then-minority Wake County school board member Ron Margiotta criticized showing the speech in school. But Margiotta, now chairman of the new Republican school board majority, said he isn't as concerned about this year's speech.

"I don't think it will be a problem," he said. "It didn't turn out to be as bad as we thought last year."

Tom Fetzer, chairman of the state Republican Party, said Friday that it was inappropriate for the Obama administration to use school time that could be used for teaching and learning. But Fetzer didn't repeat his call from last year for schools not to show the speech.

"I don't think the fate of the republic is in the balance," Fetzer said of the speech.

Obama's supporters have noted that other presidents, including Republicans Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, delivered similar speeches to students.

Like last year, Triangle school officials said it will be up to individual school principals to decide whether to air the speech.

School officials say parents who don't want their children to watch the speech can contact the principal to raise their concerns.

Lewis Ferebee, chief of staff for Durham Public Schools, said schools that show the speech will have to notify parents in writing so their children can opt out.

"The school principals, they're responsible for oversight, supervision and also instruction for students, so any time you would ask a school to stop instruction for a special activity like this, you want to make sure that the principals and staff are comfortable with having such a hard break in their instructional day," he said.

Amid the controversy, some schools didn't show the speech at all last year.

Joanne Casey complained that her daughter was the only student at Baileywick Elementary School in North Raleigh to see the speech.

After Casey had lobbied for her daughter to watch the speech, the school let her child watch it in the media center.

"Why shouldn't they be able to hear the president?" Casey said. "It's a good thing for the president of the United States to tell you that you can be whatever you want to be."

Lisa Spalding, principal of Turner Creek Elementary School in Cary, said she expects to allow students to watch the speech Tuesday.

"I thought it was a good thing for the president to tell children to stay in school," Spalding said.

Staff writers Stanley B. Chambers Jr. and Sarah Nagem contributed to this report.

keung.hui@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4534

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