Controversy over President Obama's scheduled 10 a.m. address this morning to the nation's school children continued over the Labor Day weekend including here in Pleasanton where parents are still discussing whether to allow their children to participate in classroom activities that will air the program.
In a statement issued Friday, Myla Grasso, spokeswoman for the Pleasanton Unified School District, said district teachers are not required to have their classes participate in the address and/or the accompanying lesson plans developed by the U.S. Department of Education. She said she didn't know how many teachers planned to participate or if students would be able to know if their teacher planned to participate when they left school for the three-day holiday weekend.
However, in a statement issued early today, Bridget Melson, a Pleasanton resident who operates a psychiatric practice in the city and helped organize last April's "Taxed Enough Already" local protest under the auspices of the Pleasanton Tea Party (pleasantonteaparty.com), said many concerned parents are choosing to have their students "opt out" of the Obama speech, lesson plan and/or school all together.
"I do respect that Obama is our president," Melson said. "However, due to inconsistencies that I personally have seen in his character, the company he keeps, among other things, we choose not to have our children participate in (the) event in the schools."
"I personally feel that especially at the elementary school level, children should be taught, reading, writing, arithmetic, and my son's favorite—Recess," she said, adding that she is choosing to keep her 5 and 7-year-old children home for the day.
"I conducted an email poll (Sunday) asking how many parents in Pleasanton, Sunol, and Livermore were keeping their children home," Melson said. "I have been receiving emails all day and they have continued through the night. I think it sends a strong message to the schools that they need to listen to us and if they don't, we will opt out which I know affects the district financially."
The California Republican Assembly, a volunteer organization of conservative Republicans in California, also has recommended that local school boards decline "this highly intrusive federal manipulation of our local school curriculums."
"Matters like this need the local school boards to deliberate in open public session and provide for the ability for our parents to opt in," said Ken Mettler, president of the organization.
"There are questions as to where this falls instructionally, especially with the advent of state standards and the requirement of instructional minutes," Mettler said. "Normally, instructional materials are previewed before they are allowed in the classroom. This broadcast will disrupt the normal timeline of instruction."
According to national media reports, schools across the country are choosing whether to participate in showing the presidential address, leaving it up to the individual school and teacher, or deeming it inappropriate and opting out of both the address and Presidential lesson plans all together.
When asked if the timing of the speech after students are returning from the Labor Day weekend could lead to surprised parents and students, in Pleasanton, Grasso said she didn't think so given the national attention it has received.
The U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has said the address would encourage students to "work hard, set educational goals and take responsibility for learning."
"I think it's an appropriate thing for the district to show an address from the president to stay in school, set personal goals and demonstrate responsibility," Grasso said, adding that these ideas are in line with the Community of Character and 40 Assets programs currently in place.
As of last Friday, the Pleasanton district had been contacted by about 10 parents via calls and emails expressing concern. Grasso said that parents who would rather their children not watch the address or complete assignments related to it should bring a note to class and there would be alternate activities available during that time.
Responding to talk of pulling children out of the classroom, a statement from the district encouraged parents to "know the facts," which state that the district loses more than $30 per student who is absent (excused or unexcused). Grasso added that students will not be asked to sign any "pledge" related to the speech.
The White House has made the text of the president's remarks available for review on its website, www.whitehouse.gov. The U.S. Department of Education has also posted suggested lesson plans, which are also available online: www.ed.gov.
To watch the address, see it live at www.whitehouse.gov/live or C-SPAN, or download it at www.whitehouse.gov/mediaresources or www.ed.gov.