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PARENTS SAY DARNEDEST THINGS

Obama's speech leads to parental panic. But what do, um, kids think?

Parents can be so exhausting.

They don't want kids to do drugs. Or stay up late. Or skip school.

And they certainly don't want them to watch a speech about staying in school.

Barack Obama is webcasting to classrooms across the country Tuesday with advice to students. It has turned into a collective parental panic attack. Politicians released official statements. Blogs are afire with commentary on both sides.

We've heard from Florida Republican Party chairman Jim Greer, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, Glenn Beck, Mom, Dad, Aunt Lois, Principal Jones, that cranky guy next door.

But what about those actually subjected to it? You know, the short ones with backpacks? What do they think?

In schools across the Tampa Bay area Friday, there was mostly a big shrug.

"Parents are overreacting about this." - Valeria Gaviria, Chamberlain High senior, 17.

"It's stupid." - Michael Ngo, St. Petersburg High freshman, 15.

Six kids at Johns Hopkins Middle School in St. Petersburg didn't even know Obama was planning a speech. When they found out, they were excited about getting out of class. They liked Obama, they said, inspired by an African-American president. Maybe the speech would help some children.

"Will he say something that he wrote himself, or will he say something that one of his workers wrote for him?" asked Eric Wesley, a 13-year-old seventh-grader.

More important...

"I wonder what he'll be wearing when he's on TV?"

"A suit," said Mia Clemons, 11.

"It could be white," pondered Eric. "It could be multicolored."

So many parents called or e-mailed with worries that local schools have made moves. Pinellas will give kids an excused absence if their parents keep them home. In Hillsborough and Pasco, kids can step out of class to avert their eyes. Hernando is requiring permission slips. Some schools in Pasco will tape it to show later, because it's picture day.

Some schools likely won't show the clip at all - too much hassle.

That would be fine with Elena Walker, a senior at Gaither High in Tampa.

"It's all slander," said Elena, 17. "He's losing popularity and he just lies. ... Eventually the truth comes out and people will realize he's not this 'change' man. The economy is getting worse."

Brett Gordon, a 17-year-old senior at Chamberlain High, thinks Obama's speech has no place in schools - the president is trying to test the waters for the next election.

"It's another way to find out who is against him," he said.

Others think it's totally fine.

"In school? I think it's appropriate if you are in a world history or an American history class," said Shannon Loving, 18, a senior at Gaither High. "He's part of our country. And they need to educate students like me. I'm going to have to learn, because I will be voting now that I'm 18."

Students aren't dumb, they said. They're not going to be brainwashed by watching one speech, even if it does have political messages. And for Brandon Mayhone, a freshman at St. Petersburg High, the thought of any boring presidential speech was a soul-suck.

"Frankly, when I watched the president's first speech, I turned the TV off," he said.

So what will happen Tuesday? If students were ambivalent before, some said they're not now.

They'll watch to see what the fuss is about.

Times staff writers Curtis Krueger and Tom Marshall and Times correspondents Justin Jones, Liz Nordlinger, Terrie Woodard II and Marion Wolfe contributed to this report. Stephanie Hayes can be reached at shayes@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8857.

What students are saying

"I feel that Obama's outreach to students will help his presidential service, and at the same time help students across America realize why they are truly going to school."

Nataly Millan, 16, junior at Gibbs High School, St. Petersburg

"If they won't make students say the Pledge of Allegiance, they cannot force students to listen to a presidential address. If they are going to change the schedule to make classes more time efficient, they shouldn't fritter away time because the president is speaking."

Colby Marsh, 17, senior at Lakewood High School, St. Petersburg

"I think that kids should see it. They've got to learn about the world, because sooner or later they will grow up."

John Winning, 18, senior at Gaither High School, Tampa

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