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UPDATED w/SPEECH TEXT: Local teachers not worried about Obama's speech

In most SCV school districts, educators and principals will decide if they show president's address

Posted: September 6, 2009 8:58 p.m.
Updated: September 7, 2009 11:24 a.m.
As a national debate brews over the intentions of President Barack Obama's upcoming address to school children, local educators aren't too worried about the speech meant to encourage kids to stay in school.

"I don't view it as a political issue at all," said Michael McGrath, board president of the Newhall School District. "Like other issues, I think it's being made to be a political issue."

Some conservative critics say Obama will be trying to promote a political agenda in his Tuesday address and is overstepping his bounds, taking the federal government too far into public school business.

Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, a potential presidential contender in 2012, said Obama's speech is "uninvited" and that the president's move raises questions of content and motive.

The White House defended the speech Friday.

"I think we've reached a little bit of the silly season when the president of the United States can't tell kids in school to study hard and stay in school," Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters.

Gibbs said former Republican presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush delivered similar speeches to students. He said Obama's speech will not be partisan but rather a chance for children to get "a little encouragement as they start the school year."

While some school districts across the country have decided not to show the speech, for most Santa Clarita Valley school districts, it'll be left up to the teachers and principals to decide whether to show the address, scheduled to be delivered at 9 a.m. Pacific time on Tuesday.

"It's a welcome back to school," Newhall School District Superintendent Marc Winger said. "It's all about commitment to school. ... As educators, we completely endorse the concepts he's talking about."

The Saugus Union School District sent a letter home to families saying that schools are going to try and show the speech live for fifth- and sixth-grade students, Superintendent Judy Fish said Friday.

The speech will also be recorded and possibly be shown to kindergarten through fourth-grade classrooms, Fish said.

"Anyone that wants to, if it's appropriate, will have the opportunity to hear the president," Fish said.

The letter home indicates that if parents don't want their children to watch the speech, they should notify the school and the student will be given an alternate activity, Fish said.

The Hart district is not requiring teachers to use class time to allow students to watch the president's speech, according to a memo from Vicki Engbrecht, assistant superintendent of education services for the William S. Hart Union High School District.

"On the other hand, teachers who choose to include the president's speech as part of their class instruction should be free to do so, keeping in mind the appropriate alignment to their goals for the class," the message said.

Leslie Littman, president of the Hart District Teachers Association, said the speech, designed to be a welcoming back-to-school message as much of the country begins school Tuesday, might not be as effective for Hart students considering the school year started in August.

"I can say that it's an intriguing idea that the president of the United States wants to address the students of America," she said.

Littman, a social studies teacher at Hart High School, also brought up the technology challenges at many schools and how it could prevent students from watching the broadcast.

While Littman said Thursday that she hasn't decided if she'll show the speech, she doesn't see much controversy in the message.

"I would think that they would be very careful to make sure that this is not political in nature," she said.

Other local educators agreed.

"From what I understand, it's largely to encourage and challenge kids to make education a priority in their lives," said McGrath, a local Republican. "In that sense, I think it's wonderful."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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