A few minutes ago, I spoke to Dallas Independent School District spokesman Jon Dahlander concerning his voice-mail message this morning. I wondered if today's decision, to let teachers and principals decide whether their classes could watch President Obama's speech to students on Tuesday, was a change from any kind of previous policy in place regarding the talk. As it turns out, Dahlander says, the speech "wasn't even on the radar till yesterday," when district officials began hearing that some folks were up in arms about the talk being broadcast in classrooms.
"I don't know if someone else received some kind of communique, but there was nothing till everyone started saying, 'Ya know, presidents shouldn't be allowed that platform,'" he tells Unfair Park. "And we were like, 'Oh, there's a speech?'"
Then again, Dahlander says, at least a few district officials knew something was up: For the last two weeks, the DISD's been prepping for a visit from former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk, who, of course, is now the U.S. Trade Representative. Kirk will be at the Booker T. Washington High School for the Visual and Performing Arts on Tuesday "watching the speech with students," Dahlander says, and Kirk will "also speak with them as part of the initiative."
Dahlander also reminds that George H.W. Bush spoke to students in 1991, and the district handled that speech the same way it's handling Obama's -- by letting teachers and principals decide whether or not the kids can watch it. And, you're now doubt aware by now, Ronald Reagan in 1988 had a Q&A with students, televised on C-SPAN, during which gun control and the War on Drugs were discussed.
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"You make [the speech] available to staff, and give them the flexibility," Dahlander says. "If this is at 11 a.m., chances are it's when some kids are eating lunch or going to P.E. class, so not everybody would be able to watch it. And schools can record it, watch it and then show it to their students if they want. ... We're all taught in school that you respect the office of the President of the United States, and we're doing that. Any speech by the president is worthy of attention, especially if it addresses the role of parents and students and teachers in improving educational achievement. And, remember, a few months ago we were overjoyed to receive former President George W. Bush and former First Lady Laura Bush, and we hope they will come back. To have a former president in our community is a unique opportunity."