Today I found out that my children were not given access to the address by the President and Commander in Chief of the United States of America intended for the nation’s students. My son’s high school has not returned my call, but the receptionist agreed that it was ridiculous. The principal at my daughters’ elementary school spoke to me and explained that they had been told by the County that they would need to get permission from all of the parents – over the Labor Day weekend – so they gave up. He, too, expressed disgust with the situation.
Turns out the Wake County Public School System left the schools no real choice but to ban the President, at the request of Dr. Rebecca Garland, Chief Academic Officer, NC Department of Public Instruction.
After getting home from meeting with my daughter’s teachers and principal (it was fortuitously a parent/teacher night) I sent the following note to the school district:
Subject: Banning speeches from United States Presidents
I just found out from our daughters’ principal that he and all other school administrators was instructed to distribute, collect and process permission slips over the Labor Day weekend if he would like to show his students the address from the President of the United States. Obviously, this was the District’s coward’s-refuge from making the decision to block the address from the Commander in Chief of our childrens’ nation.
I will be following up with the District in person to determine how this insane decision was reached, but would appreciate a response to this email as well.
To their credit, someone got back to me within a few hours. Their response includes the note (not timestamped) that they had sent out to the principals in the district:
From: CustomerService – email@example.com
Date: Tuesday, September 8, 2009, 9:55 PM
Good evening and thank you for contacting the Wake County Public School System. I recently received a message from our Office of Communications that was sent out to school principals regarding the President’s speech. Each school was given the opportunity to view the presentation at the principal’s discretion within the guidelines outlined below. I have attached the note sent to the principals along with a message that arrived from the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.
We have received questions regarding President Obama’s video webcast scheduled for next Tuesday, September 8th. As discussed in the email below from the Department of Public Instruction, we consider this an optional instructional activity. Should you choose to participate, we ask you follow our practice for any additional enrichment activity.
Please ensure that:
1. The video webcast activity is aligned with the state’s Standard Course of Study;
2. Parents of the students who might participate be made aware of the activity; and
3. Should a parent choose not to have their child participate in the video webcast activity, an appropriate alternative educational activity be provided separate from the event.
Should you have any questions, please contact your Area Superintendent.
Chief Communications Officer
Wake County Public School System
What is interesting are the timestamps on the other parts of the email that was included with their reply. Note that Dr. Rebecca Garland, Chief Academic Officer, NC Department of Public Instruction, sent her instructions to schools across the state at 8:41am on Thursday, Sept. 3 – a time that finds most school principals already deep into the daily issues of running their schools. Further, this was forwarded to the Wake County School District at 10:35 am, after which point the guidance above would have been composed and distributed to the schools. Obviously this could not then have been received, digested and discussed by any given principal until at least after the end of school that day.
—–Forwarded by Michael Evans/Communications/WCPSS on 09/03/2009 10:35AM —–
To: “Information for NC PIO’s” – firstname.lastname@example.org –
From: “Vanessa Jeter” email@example.com
Date: 09/03/2009 08:41AM
Subject: Address by President Obama on Sept. 8
Dear LEA Superintendents, Principals, Teachers and Public Information Officers,
On Tuesday, Sept. 8, President Barack Obama will deliver a national address to students via the Web and C-SPAN to encourage students to set high academic goals and to do their best to succeed in school. The address will be broadcast live on the White House Web site ( http://www.whitehouse.gov/live/ ) and on C-SPAN at 12:00 p.m., ET.
In support of this address, the U.S. Department of Education has posted a menu of classroom activities for students at all grade spans-created by its teachers-in-residence, the Teaching Ambassador Fellows-to help engage students in the address and stimulate classroom discussions about the importance of education. These materials are online at http://www.ed.gov .
To further encourage student engagement, the U.S. Department of Education is launching the “I Am What I Learn” video contest in conjunction with the address. On Sept. 8, the Department of Education will ask students to respond to the president’s challenge by creating videos, up to two minutes in length, describing the steps they will take to improve their education and the role education will play in fulfilling their dreams. More details about this are on the U.S. Department of Education’s Web site.
Some of you have received parent contacts and questions about this address. Please note that this address is an optional instructional activity. As with many other enrichment opportunities available to educators, it is a local decision regarding the participation of your teachers and students.
Dr. Rebecca Garland
Chief Academic Officer
NC Department of Public Instruction
So, given less than one day to interpret the guidance that was handed down from the state, and thereon to the counties, and then to the schools, the school administrators themselves were faced with a Mugg’s Choice between inaction (and therefore banning their students from access to the address by the President of their country) and highly interpretable action which could lead them to trouble that the County would clearly not support them for.
The following is my last reply to the County for tonight, but this is far from over.
September 8, 2009 10:32 PM
Hello Jeff et al,
This note from the district is dated five days prior to the President’s address – the Thursday before the Labor Day weekend – and includes the instruction:
“Parents of the students who might participate be made aware of the activity;”
In other words, any school administrator who should choose to show the address from the President of the United States to his/her students will need to ensure that all parents are informed prior. This would at least entail that such school administrators compose and distribute to all parents within 24 hours, a ridiculous requirement.
I will be interested to learn what precautions the Wake Country School District took in 1991 before permitting United States President George H. W. Bush access to Wake County students during his address to the nation’s schools. If you could provide this information it would save me some research and I would be understandably grateful. I will also be interested to see going forward what restricti
ons the District puts in place in regards to allowing our elected leaders words to reach our students over the next ten years that my children will attend these schools.
Thank you for providing this initial information. If you can provide further guidance in regards to which venues and officers are best suited for me to pursue this further with it would be appreciated.
[UPDATE – 1]
So far everyone involved sounds reasonable, which is one of the problems of a faceless bureaucracy. No reply yet from the Governor’s office.
Good morning, Chris. You raise an interesting question and one for which I have no answer. I was a young teacher in 1991 and honestly cannot remember showing President Bush’s address to my students. I also don’t recall any public outcry for viewing versus not viewing it, but long-term memory is not my strong suit. You asked how the school system handled the viewing of that speech and I wouldn’t know who to ask. That was four or five superintendents ago. From what I read in the news, there were a few concerned parents in 1991, but it never approached the national and local attention given to yesterday’s speech. Of course, we didn’t have the electronic tools then to organize large groups of people around an issue or opinion. This event has put schools and school districts in a very precarious spot – a non-partisan organization forced to make a no-win decision that, regardless of each critic’s affiliation, will be seen as partisan. We deal with controversial issues on a regular basis, but I cannot think of any we could categorize with this one.
I watched the speech at home last night and thought it was a wonderful message. I hope my kids will be able to see it in the coming days. I have listened to lots (LOTS) of parents and community members weigh in on why we should or should not show this presentation to our students. I have tried to keep an open mind and can truly say I understand both arguments. I wish the discussion would have been centered more on “Should school districts throughout our nation tune in…” instead of “My kids’ school principal should…” If schools were given more advance notice, I believe both the conversation and the principals’ willingness to participate may have been different.
I wish I had more substantial help to offer, but you are right when you say we’ll have to see how similar situations are treated in the coming years. Our Board elections next month could change the school district’s perpsective on this and many other issues. Stay tuned. If I can answer any questions, don’t hesitate to write or call.
The Welcome Center
Wake County Public School System