President Barack Obama’s Sept. 8 speech to students caused an early morning uproar at the Templeton Unified School District. A school board meeting was called before the school day started to decide if the president’s speech should be shown to students. More than 100 people attended to see the board vote 3-2 to allow teachers to show the presidential pep talk.
About half of the crowd spoke at the event, with most of the speakers supporting showing the speech.
Deborah Bowers, the district superintendent, said she hadn’t heard the president was giving a speech until she began to receive e-mails late the week before from parents alerting her it was going to be a controversial issue. She sent an e-mail to teachers on Sept. 4, instructing them to show the speech if it didn’t interfere with their lesson plans. Individual students could opt out of watching.
She received an e-mail from David La Rue, the Templeton school district trustee who called for the early morning showdown, demanding that the speech not be shown. In the e-mail, La Rue threatened to file formal complaints against any administrator or teacher who showed the talk because it would be “a violation of the political propaganda and captive audience laws and policies” of the state.
La Rue wrote that what the president says might have one use in the classroom: “I have however, in my analytical way, found a limited educational value to the broadcast. For those classes specifically using George Orwell's Animal Farm in their lesson plans, this would be a modern day example of the tactics outlined in the literary work. So I would suggest those teachers tape this broadcast and edit it to be used in their teachings of this subject, during that unit.”
La Rue said in a phone interview that he was upset by the suggested curriculum released by the White House last week that suggested students “write letters to themselves about what they can do to help the president.”
“I considered that very partisan and political material,” La Rue explained. “It’s against the rules and inappropriate to show kids material like that without it being previewed by the district.”
The White House has since withdrawn the materials.
La Rue said he received dozens of e-mails from parents disturbed by the prospect of President Obama speaking directly to their kids in the classroom. The curriculum inspired him to write the letter, he said, and conceded that the actual speech was pretty decent.
Trustee Debbie Viborg joined La Rue in voting against showing the speech.
Bowers said she was glad she made the decision to allow the speech to be shown, despite all the controversy.
“He is the president of the United States,” said Bowers, sounding exhausted as she explained why she approved showing the talk in the first place. “If we are trying to teach citizenship and trying to teach critical thinking, then this is a chance to do that. I hope they listen and analyze what they hear and then go home discuss the speech with their parents.”