Colorado school districts react to furor over presidential speech

Colorado’s urban school districts are scrambling to calm conservative parental furor over President Barack Obama’s scheduled speech to schoolchildren on Tuesday—even as the state’s right blogosphere cooks up conspiracy theories and Hitler comparisons.

From Friday’s Denver Post:

In the Denver area, districts are leaving the decision up to principals or individual teachers.

Denver Public Schools chief academic officer Ana Tilton on Thursday reminded principals who choose to show the speech that “the focus of the classroom activities must be completely educational and nonpolitical . . . if there are parents who still don’t want their child to listen to the president’s speech, please have an alternate activity available.”

Douglas County Schools has an opt-out form on its website for parents who wish to exclude their children from the speech.

Dave Minter, principal at Pine Grove Elementary in Parker, told parents the school will videotape the speech, review it and determine whether it can be shown at a later date.

“If we do decide to show it to students, parents will be notified in advance and given the option to excuse their child or children from participating,” Minter said in a communication to parents.

Colorado Springs District 11 officials met Thursday on whether to allow the speech to be shown. The superintendent said he wanted to speak with school board members before announcing his decision today.

But over at Rocky Mountain Right, blogger “mikerobinsonpc” contended that all was not as it seemed. The blog alleged that on Sept. 2, Douglas County School District officials altered and rewrote “a key document” in order to “greatly expand the number of impressionable children exposed to the direct influence of President Obama on September 8, 2009.”

The key document? A parental permission slip—which the Right argues was changed from the School Board-approved “opt-in” form to an unapproved “opt-out” form.

A thorough search of the DCSD school records as shown on the District’s web site shows that there is no “Opt Out” form adopted or approved by the Douglas County School District. Ms. Susan Meek, the Acting Director of Communication for the District declined to comment on this abrupt change of the parental consent form or to return phone calls and emails. A review of the metadata on the Opt Out form’s .pdf shows that the form was written by Ms. Stacey Neith, a Communications Specialist in Ms. Meek’s office.

At The Right Huff, one Douglas County parent suggested parents take matters into their own hands:

My kids will not go to school that day. We’ll do patriotic activities such as taking turns reciting the Declaration of Independence. It’s an exciting document! We have a cool hiding place in the back corner of our yard. We’ll pretend that we’re hiding from British soldiers and loyalist neighbors who are willing to turn us in or arrest us! We’ll examine the pumpkins and talk about harvesting our crops for the coming winter. I think we’ll bake bread that day, too. Perhaps we’ll seek out a cemetery and talk about the folks who died for our freedom.

Kids, argued The Right Huff, shouldn’t watch the speech because Obama is just one step away from Hitler:

What will you do? I hope I don’t need to point out that our President is unabashedly taking our country on a fast track to socialism. Adolph Hitler also made it a point to engage Germany’s children, thereby accomplishing his goals by working around Germany’s adults, and raising a generation of Hitler worshippers. We all know how that turned out.

Obama announced the speech weeks ago in an interview with a youth reporter. However, controversy began to flare this week as conservatives publicized opposition to the speech–and particularly to a White House blunder over suggested teaching resources.

The plans, available online, originally recommended having students “write letters to themselves about what they can do to help the president.”

The White House revised the plans Wednesday to say students could “write letters to themselves about how they can achieve their short-term and long-term education goals.”

“That was inartfully worded, and we corrected it,” White House deputy policy director Heather Higginbottom said in an interview with The Associated Press.

However, the text of the plans caught the attention of conservatives.

“They said, ‘Aha! He is trying to get them to think like Democrats,’ ” said Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. “Whoever wrote that didn’t think of the implications. I doubt layers of public officials scrutinized it. But the lesson is you have to think about every little thing. The White House was completely blindsided by this. This hit with a fury.”

Most news accounts point out that President George H.W. Bush also gave a nationally televised address to students.

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