School districts cautious ahead of Obama speech to students

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SALT LAKE CITY -- President Obama is set to speak to students across the country next week by video link on the importance of staying in school, but school districts across the state are notifying parents and giving them the choice to have their child opt out of watching the speech.

Call it reaction to conservative rhetoric nationally, or legitimate pressure from parents who are concerned the president's speech will have a political message, but either way, with the exception of just a few districts, schools across the state will show the speech, but only after telling parents first.

Parents react to schools' plan to show Obama speechSome parents are taking their time deciding whether they'll let their kids watch the president's speech next Tuesday.

"If some people don't want that for their kids, they should be notified and decide for themselves," says parent Lisa Haddon.


Some parents are concerned what will be said may be offensive or too liberal for their children and are even vowing to keep their kids away, like a commenter who says, "I don't think it's appropriate [that Obama] speak to our kids. It's like someone calling my child on the phone and speaking to them without my permission."

But others say as long as there is nothing political about it, they're fine with it.

"As long as he doesn't have a political agenda and just wants to get kids excited about learning and going to college and all that good stuff," says a parent. Parents KSL spoke to at West High School were more open and apathetic to the address.

"I think [kids] have to listen to all things and make their own decisions," Rebecca said as she dropped her son off at school. "I think it's OK if they want to listen."

Isaisas Solorio was more definite.

"Really, to be sincere, I don't really care what Barack Obama has to say," Solorio said. Still, he didn't mind his children hearing the president's message.

Another parent, Alysha Witzel says, "As long as he doesn't have any political agenda mixed in with it, from what I understand, it's just going to be about education and motivating kids to further their education."

The Canyons District responds to concerns

The White House says that's what it will be. Dr. David Doty, Superintendent of Canyons School District, explains, "I have not seen anything in a description of the event that would portray it in any way as propaganda. And I personally believe it's very unfortunate it's being portrayed in that light."

According to the [U.S. Department of Education](, the President will speak about "persisting and succeeding in school." The president will also "challenge students to work hard, set educational goals, and take responsibility for their learning." The Dept. of Education invites "students of all ages, teachers, and administrators" [to watch the President's address]( and encourages "educators to help students get focused and inspired to begin the new academic year."
He says it's supposed to be message that students should take responsibility for their own success in the classroom. "This is the president of the United States, and I personally believe we have not only a duty but a responsibility to listen carefully," says Doty.

But even with that said, the Canyons School District is not necessarily encouraging or promoting it. It's letting parents decide for themselves, just as other districts are.

"I would probably think about opting out of it. It would be a little more comforting to me if I could view it first," says parent Jennifer Healy.

The Salt Lake City School District responds to concerns

Salt Lake City School District is advising schools to have teachers notify parents if they plan on airing the address in class, and then allowing an opt-out.

"Unfortunately, with the attention paid to the [Obama-themed service] video in Farmington, a lot of parents have started to question how schools will handle this, and we've been getting some calls to our district as well," spokesman Jason Olsen said.

The Jordan School District responds to concerns

While acknowledging the historic nature of the address, a spokesperson says Jordan School District is advising teachers that the address must tie into the curriculum if they are going to allow students to watch it.

"He's going to talk about education--and what a great message from our nation's leader," said spokeswoman Melinda Colton.

Other school districts respond to concerns

The Nebo District says State Superintendent Larry Shumway sent official word Sept. 2 announcing the president's speech. Shumway said the decision to watch should be made in each district. Nebo District decided because of the lateness of the notification, its students will not watch the speech at school. [CLICK HERE to see how each district is handling the speech]

The Davis School District is sending out letters to parents (CLICK HERE to read it), giving them the option to have their child opt out of watching the speech.

The district's planning comes after some parents and the conservative Utah Eagle Forum complained about the video called "I Pledge!" shown Friday at Eagle Bay Elementary School. Some claim it supported a political "leftist agenda."

Alpine and Uintah are among the other school districts mulling options or putting into place guidelines ahead of the speech.

Granite District says principals will be sending home notices if their schools plan to show the speech.

Where you can get more information on the speech

The U.S. Department of Education website provides information about the upcoming speech and student worksheets that tie to curriculum. The speech can be seen live on the internet Tuesday at


Story compiled with contributions from Courtney Orton and Andrew Adams

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