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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Tampa Bay parents can opt out of Obama speech, schools say



UPDATE A 6:05 P.M.:

Here's what other Tampa Bay area school districts are doing about Obama's speech:

Hillsborough: School officials said they had no plans to notify parents of the president's speech, which will only be aired in classrooms or schools where it connects with the curriculum. Those with concerns can opt out. "If parents object to it at all, they can let their school know," said spokesman Stephen Hegarty. "(Students) can go to the media center, they can go to another classroom. Nobody's going to be required to watch it."

Hernando: School officials are requiring principals to send home permission slips “that will allow students to either view it or opt not to,” according to a letter to principals from interim superintendent Sonya Jackson.

Pasco: Superintendent Heather Fiorentino sent a note to principals today telling them that the Obama speech is not mandatory. If it is shown, parents can opt out their children. Teachers have to make alternative assignments for students whose parents do not want them to participate.   
UPDATE AT 5:38 P.M.:

Pinellas: Parents who want to keep their kids out of school on Tuesday - because they don't want them to hear President Obama talk about the importance of staying in school - will be given an excused absence, Pinellas Superintendent Julie Janssen wrote in this email to principals just a short time ago. The response from school board member Linda Lerner: "I don't want to be too critical of the superintendent, but an excused absence? Because the president is going to speak about kids staying in school?"

This story is gaining traction nationally. Here's some of what's happening in South Florida, in North Carolina, in Texas.  

ORIGINAL POST: The dust-up over President Obama's back-to-school speech, fanned by a Pants-on-Fire statement from the Republican Party of Florida, is now swirling into Pinellas schools.

Superintendent Julie Janssen told principals in an email last night that they can show the webcast if they'd like. But, she added, "if you elect to do so, parents should be given adequate advance notice and the opportunity to opt out."

One Pinellas school board member said the move was appropriate. The head of the Pinellas teachers union said it was an overreaction.

"Just to be fair, if George Bush had announced he was making a speech to our school children, I probably would have thrown up. I had a very visceral response to everything that man did and said," board member Janet Clark told The Gradebook. "I understand there's people that feel that way about Obama."

"We don't know what (Obama's) going to say. People who don't like him are going to expect the worst," she continued. "I would like the same opportunity (to opt out) if it was my child."

But Marshall Ogletree, executive director of the Pinellas teachers union, said Janssen's decision was not in the best interest of students.

"I just don't see why it would be appropriate that you would have to get parental permission for a child to watch the president of the United States. To my knowledge, that's never been done before," he said. "I can see if the subject matter related to something controversial, like abortion. But in this particular case ... the subject is education."

Ogletree said the remarks that sparked the controversy - from Republican Party of Florida Chairman Jim Greer - were "balderdash" and "ludicrous." "Somebody's trying to make a political issue out of a normal function of the president," he said. And they're suceeding.

Clark said she expects Obama's speech to be about "personal responsibility and parents being involved in their kids' education." She doesn't expect many parents will opt out.

At least one other school district in Florida, Seminole, is moving to do the same thing as Pinellas. In Texas, a radio talk show host is encouraging a "sick out." In Minnesota, a Congressman is demanding that Obama release his speech in advance.

- Ron Matus, state education reporter

[Last modified: Tuesday, May 25, 2010 10:34am]


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