Obama speech hits a nerve

JDHS mother contacts superintendent about 'political agenda' in school

Posted: Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Controversy surrounding a speech planned today by President Obama to schoolchildren reached at least one Juneau household, when parent Terry Ullmayer e-mailed the school district asking for more information about what the district had planned for the event.

Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

Ullmayer wrote that she was concerned the lesson plan to go along with the speech was about creating a cult following of this particular president.

She initially told the district she would opt her child out of the lesson but in an interview with the Empire on Monday, said her original concerns were diluted by national publicity surrounding the speech.

She said she'd allow her 15-year-old daughter to make up her own mind about whether to watch it.

The speech begins at 8 a.m. Alaska time and high school starts at 9:15. Lower grades begin class at 8 a.m.

Several conservative organizations and individuals have accused President Obama of trying to pitch his arguments too aggressively in a local-education setting. Some conservatives have urged schools and parents to boycott the address. White House officials have said the allegations are silly.

It was unclear Monday whether students in Juneau would use the speech during classes today.

Superintendent Glenn Gelbrich could not be reached Monday, a holiday, but he responded to Ullmayer in an e-mail she provided to the Empire, writing that information about the president's speech was shared with teachers "so they could - if they chose - use it to promote the learning they already have planned."

Gelbrich wrote that he believed the speech was intended to encourage kids to set goals, work hard at school and pursue their dreams.

He wrote Ullmayer that he would be willing to look at her specific concerns.

Ullmayer said her concerns are not about the speech.

She said she learned through a national talk radio program and FOX News that the Department of Education's suggested lesson plans for use by teachers after the speech asked students to tell in writing what they pledged to do for President Obama.

"I know a lot of people do not understand what is wrong with that but we are familiar with the Russian revolution, the Chinese revolution, the uprising in Europe from Hitler, the uprisings in Cuba and Venezuela: The children in school are asked to pledge allegiance to their leader. And we think that's wrong," she said.

She said she is not against the president giving a speech.

"I am against what I see as a political agenda," she said.

The Department of Education was criticized for the proposed lesson plans.

On Sunday, Education Secretary Arne Duncan acknowledged that a section about writing to the president on how students can help him meet education goals was poorly worded. It was changed.

"We just clarified that to say write a letter about your own goals and what you're going to do to achieve those goals," Duncan said on CBS' "Face the Nation."

Obama will deliver the speech today at Wakefield High School in Arlington, Va. It will be shown live on the White House Web site and on C-SPAN at 8 a.m. in Alaska.

• The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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