Parents react to Obama's speech

September 08, 2009|By DAN DEARTH

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- Bev Abeles didn't use a typical excuse to sign her children out of Paramount Elementary School on Tuesday.

"I said they had an appointment with the president of the United States," Abeles said. "I'm sure it was an unexcused absence."

Abeles said she signed her children Maddie, 10, and Kevin, 8, out of school at 11:30 a.m. to watch President Obama's national address to school children.

The president's speech began shortly after noon and lasted about 15 minutes.

Washington County Public Schools announced last week that the school system would not air the speech, which raised controversy after some said they believed Obama would use the opportunity to push his political views.


Nine of 10 Washington County private schools that were contacted Tuesday said they would not show the president's speech. St. Mary Catholic School said it would show the speech to students who obtained parental consent.

Abeles said she believed that all of the controversy before the speech was "silly."

"I thought (the speech) was wonderful," Abeles said. "It was motivating and encouraging and fantastic. I don't have anything bad to say about it."

Jeanne Singer agreed.

Singer said she pulled her son Garrett, 14, out of North Hagerstown High School to hear the speech.

Her daughter, Abby, 10, had stayed home sick from Northern Middle School.

Singer said she made certain that Garrett's absence was excused.

"The controversy caught me by surprise," Singer said. "It's just a shame that's what it came down to."

Singer said Obama's speech, which urged children to stay in school and study hard to make the nation stronger, was a "great message."

"Having those kinds of words come from someone other than a parent ... was very good for my son to hear," she said. "I hope all Washington County students get to hear it at some point."

Kristin B. Aleshire and William J. Wivell were the only two Washington County Commissioners who could be reached Tuesday to discuss Washington County Public Schools' decision not to air the address.

Aleshire and Wivell said matters like this should be decided by the Washington County Board of Education and school administrators, not the county commissioners.

"We are the funding mechanism, not the policy maker," Aleshire said. "We are not the policy maker for the Board of Education."

Del. Andrew A. Serafini, R-Washington, said he believed the school system made the right decision because it didn't have enough notice to offer other opportunities to students who didn't want to watch the speech.

Serafini said he thought some of the concerns people had early on were legitimate, but he didn't have a problem with the result.

"I think for him to challenge kids to work hard in school is a good message," Serafini said.

Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, did not return a telephone call seeking comment.

In a press release issued Friday, school officials said "Washington County Public Schools staff members just recently learned of the president's intent to deliver a message to educators and students during the school day. WCPS is extremely cautious when making decisions that disrupt academic instruction and school schedules, and the limited notice does not allow appropriate time to manage the logistical challenges of airing the speech simultaneously at all WCPS locations.

"Because of the reasons above," the release said, "WCPS will not be airing the speech live."

Washington County Public Schools spokesman Richard Wright said Tuesday the school system will make the speech available to parents who want to watch it with their children. If parents desire to do so, they may contact the school principal to arrange a time, he said.

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