OC Schools’ Handling of President’s Back-to-School Speech Varies
By Paul Anderson
City News Service
CNS–Orange County educators handled President Barack Obama’s back-to-school speech in a variety of ways, with some prohibiting students from viewing it Tuesday, to others encouraging participation in the nationwide broadcast.
In the Santa Ana Unified School District, it was decided that “the superintendent and leadership team would review it first, and if it matched with the content standards of the school district, we would determine if it would be shown at a later date,” said spokeswoman Angela Burrell.
The Newport-Mesa Unified School District also did not stream the speech as it was broadcast live online, in part because they were worried it would be too much of a disruption on the first day of classes.
School officials also concluded the district’s computer system was not equipped for it, but it was recorded, and the district will let teachers decide whether to show it to their students. If parents object, they can opt to have their children sit out of a replaying of the speech, according to district officials.
The Rev. Gerald Horan, superintendent of the Orange County Diocese’s Roman Catholic schools, encouraged his teachers to show the speech to their students.
“I thought the speech was very warm and spoke at a level that was attainable for the kids,” Horan said, adding he felt the president managed to connect with students from kindergarten through high school.
Obama’s speech sparked controversy by critics who said they feared he would use the occasion to indoctrinate students with his politics. But some Republican leaders, such as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, praised it today.
Still, several school leaders said they fielded calls from parents on both sides of the issue, with some complaining about the president politicking to others griping about censorship.
“It was not as much of an issue here because most our schools start Thursday,” said Ian Hanigan, spokesman for the Irvine Unified School District. But the district does have four year-round schools that were in session today, and the superintendent let teachers at those campuses decide if they wanted to work the speech into their curriculum, Hanigan added.
The Orange County Department of Education did not issue any recommendations on how to handle the speech, said Nicole Savio, the department’s school and community services coordinator.
“What I’m hearing today is from school to school, they’re making individualized decisions,” Savio said. “A lot of schools started today, so some are making it available at a later time, but there’s no real one clear answer.”
In a letter to parents, Newport-Mesa Unified Superintendent Jeffrey Hubbard said he was surprised by the complaints from some parents that the district bowed to political pressure.
“I am certainly troubled that so many folks believe we were susceptible to political considerations and/or complaints regarding this decision,” Hubbard said, referring to the district’s decision to delay broadcast of the speech and leave it to teachers to decide if they wanted to show it.
“That is simply not true,” he said. “We have already begun the process of reviewing our ability to show a live address, on short notice, should the occasion arrive again. In no way would I ever disrespect the president or the office of the president regardless of that president’s political viewpoints.”
Hubbard noted he looked forward to watching the speech later this week with his 8-year-old daughter.
Newport-Mesa officials said they did not find out about the president’s speech until last Wednesday, but Horan said Catholic educators were notified Aug. 25 and began considering whether to show it then.
When the diocese’s leaders saw the text of the speech released by the White House last week, it was easy to recommend it, Horan said.
In the speech, Obama encouraged students to take responsibility for their education. He said parents and political leaders are doing what they can to improve education, but that ultimately it’s up to the students to do their best to learn.
“We found all that to be appropriate and, in fact, exciting. It’s kind of wonderful the leader of our nation would take time to speak to the children in our schools,” Horan said. “And what is hugely important to them is that they see that the beginning of school is to be seen as important on this level.”
Catholic school leaders received one complaint from a parent about the speech, Horan said. His office assured the parent that he had reviewed the speech and found it appropriate.
Newport-Mesa Unified’s spokeswoman, Laura Boss, said she saw the speech and thought it was “wonderful and very encouraging.”