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I live in Shorewood, Wisconsin, a city that voted 74% for Obama.  It seems one email from one right-winger got the superintendent in a snit, and we won't be airing the presidential address.  I found out by having to call him directly; there wasn't anything on the school's website either for or against, and it turns out he issued a press release (still not on the website) at 4:30 on Friday.

I was outrageously angry. After writing the following letter between 3:30 and 5:00 this morning and other ranting, I'm now exhausted.  Totally exhausted.  I took
annie em's and manoffire's diaries from yesterday and wrote the following letter.  Use it if it helps.

I sent the following letter to my school board, the superintendent, several teachers and parents.  Last night I was thinking that there was not much room to wiggle given the holiday weekend and the "technology barrier."  But I woke up at 3:00 with the idea that the technology barrier could be breached if the address was taped and later shown at an all-school assembly.  Hence, my "number 5" below.

The truly ironic thing is that the school district has had a multi-year effort at "character education," where each month is addressed some aspect of personal character - charity, responsibility, etc.  So, I ask, why not civic engagement? Why can't the addressed be shown at one of our "character building assemblies" and have the theme be civic engagment or some such?

I have the opportunity to address the school board at a meeting on Tuesday evening, so I also appreciate any revisions that could be made to this letter in the mean time.  Thanks!  (Agian, h/t to annie em and manoffire for giving me the ammo.)

A walkable street
Shorewood, WI 53211

Dear Shorewood School Board Members and Superintendent McCann,

In a letter received last week, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan stated the following, "President Obama announced that on September 8 – the first day of school for many children across America – he will deliver a national address directly to students on the importance of education. The President will challenge students to work hard, set educational goals, and take responsibility for their learning. He will also call for a shared responsibility and commitment on the part of students, parents and educators to ensure that every child in every school receives the best education possible so they can compete in the global economy for good jobs and live rewarding and productive lives as American citizens."

I understand that Superintendent McCann received a number of inquiries about whether President Obama’s speech to the schoolchildren of America next week will be available in Shorewood, WI.  I understand that due to the logistics of making a web cast available during that time of the school day and the belief that our limited time with students must be focused on our curriculum and instruction, teachers will not be required to show the address. The Shorewood School District will treat this address like any other national news event and allow individual teachers to determine whether or not their class will view the speech if it aligns to the curriculum and is timely.

I believe there are two problems with this approach.

First, this position leaves teachers entirely vulnerable to dismissal.  In the specific case of Mayer v. Monroe in the Seventh District, a teacher was dismissed for telling her students that she "honked for peace." The Seventh District ruled that "The first amendment does not entitle primary and secondary teachers, when conducting the education of captive audiences, to cover topics, or advocate viewpoints, that depart from the curriculum adopted by the school." The Supreme Court declined to review the case.  

Essentially, teachers have no protection under the law if parents choose to "make a fuss" –thus abdicating a Board-level decision to individual teachers.

Second, this decision indicates that the School District has decided that this is a political issue, when clearly this is the President of the United States of America giving a speech to schoolchildren about education.  This has not happened since President George H.W. Bush gave a similar speech on October 1st, 1991 from Alice Deal Junior High School in Washington, D.C.  Here is the link from the Bush Presidential Library for the text of the speech:

This is by any standard, an historic speech that relates directly to my child's educational well being.  How can a speech about education by the President of the United States of America not "align to the curriculum and be timely"?  This notion suggests that the decision is a mollification to specific parents and not a decision based on what is best for our school children as a whole.

I sincerely doubt that in the entire school year one hour of time dedicated to a discussion about education and civics with encouragement from the President of the United States of America would violate state law in any way or have the District fall short of its required curriculum hours
I am requesting that the School Board and Superintendent McCann reconsider this decision.  Please do not let classroom teachers have to deal with angry parents from both sides of this issue.  This implication to the teachers is to avoid alleged controversy by not showing the speech.  

I want to include my children in this activity.  I very strongly request that my children be included in this activity.  I would suggest any of the following accommodations be made in order to give fair time to parents that want to have their children participate in this event, listed in order of my preference.

  1.  Have an assembly for the entire school body to hear and discuss President Obama's speech. Those parents wishing to exclude their children may retain their children in the assigned classes or in another assembly, perhaps to discuss civics and education for an hour without the influence of the President of the United States of America.

  2.  Present the speech in each classroom, with those declining participation the same option as #1.

  3.  Take those children whose parents directly request participation in the speech event to an assembly, perhaps in the library or computer lab to see the speech on the White House website.

This might be an opportunity to allow those parents interested in having their children participate to come to school and join in the discussion.  That would eliminate the accusation made by some that parents would not know what is being presented in the speech.

  4.  Allow individual students access to the speech in class, in the library, or the computer lab.

  5.  Given the short timeline in reversing the decision from a logistical and technological viewpoint, and if we are truly concerned about meeting curriculum requirements, have the speech videotaped and presented as part of the District’s Character Education plan, perhaps at an all-school assembly.  Notify parents ahead of time who might want to excuse their children from this event.

I feel that if option 5 is not maintained that I will be taking my children home and out of the classroom so that they can watch the presidential address live.  I for one will not be denied this opportunity because of a baseless accusation from the chair of the GOP party of Florida.

I feel that this is an opportunity for my children to learn about notions of free speech, the difference between politics and governance, respect for the office of the President, learning to forge ahead even if you lose, and the importance of open civic debate.  Why do a few anonymous parents get to quash free speech?

I will be forwarding this letter to the parents of every Shorewood school child I am able to and will copy this letter to Principal Juffers, will distribute at the Shorewood Eat In Potluck on September 5th, and will share with state and local newspapers.  I will also be forwarding this letter to the White House.

Please respond by Monday, September 7th.  I will be reserving space in my home so as to invite other parents interested in sharing this important event live with their children.  I need to know if such space will be necessary.  I imagine quite a number of parents might be interested in participating.

The speech by the President of the United States of America, and the resulting civics and education discussion and follow up work suggested by the Department of Education will be a rich learning experience for any Shorewood student wishing to participate, and I hope many will be able to in one of the venues I have suggested.


Mother to two Lake Bluff students

Originally posted to cityvitalsigns on Sat Sep 05, 2009 at 11:27 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Thank you for writing. An eldery aunt, with Fox (2+ / 0-)

    News talking points coming unedited from her lips, caused a family upset re this topic last night. I am deeply saddened by the anger and disrespect towards our President. To hear this from someone I know and care for makes it even harder.

    Thanks again for writing both the letter and the diary.

    Love is the lasting legacy of our lives

    by princesspat on Sat Sep 05, 2009 at 11:56:57 AM PDT

  •  I Don't Understand Why a Teacher Would Be... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Exclamation Point Brian

    entirely vulnerable to dismissal.

    You stated earlier in your letter

    The Shorewood School District will treat this address like any other national news event and allow individual teachers to determine whether or not their class will view the speech if it aligns to the curriculum and is timely.

    I only see a few classes that could not show it and discuss it within the stated framework.  

    If the President focusses on studying and staying in school and the teacher leads a discussion on how studying will improve their classroom performance, how will that lead to dismissal?

    On the other hand, if the teacher of a Math class discusses Freedom of Speech Issues afterwards, I can see how she/he might be concerned with dismissal.

    If a teacher has a concern with dismissal, she should talk to her Principal (suupervisor?) ahead and if still concerned write a letter to her/him reviewing the discussion and give it to her/him through normal channels (keeping a copy of course and with a cc to the Superintendant).  This has always been effective for me when I "push the envelope" at work.  No employer wants to dismiss an employee with good documentation of historical events!

    •  Thanks for pointing out that inconsistency (0+ / 0-)

      I'll address it in the next draft.  What I mean to say is that the teachers can't be left out on a limb, and so the first statement needs to be couched that way.

      Thomas Frank is right.

      by cityvitalsigns on Sun Sep 06, 2009 at 12:36:14 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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