Obama plans to again speak to children as school begins

For the second year in a row President Barack Obama will address American schoolchildren with a back-to-school speech, the White House confirmed Tuesday.

Word of the speech got out Monday at the National School Public Relations Association's National Seminar in Charlotte, N.C., when Peter Cunningham, the Education Department's assistant secretary for communications and outreach, mentioned during a session that Obama will address students again.

White House officials declined to provide any other details.

But last year's speech created an uproar. Before Obama addressed students Sept. 8, some parents said a White House video broadcast to youngsters amounted to propaganda. Many school districts said the timing of the speech conflicted with scheduled lesson plans and lunch periods.

A number of school districts statewide declined to screen the speech live and instead recorded it to show students later and posted a link on school websites.

In his speech, which was broadcast from the White House website and on C-SPAN cable television, Obama talked about the value of education, urging students to work hard and take responsibility for their studies.

On Tuesday, representatives from the Texas Education Agency and some school districts said that they were just now learning about the planned speech and that administrators will determine how to proceed in the coming weeks.

Last year, many school districts were caught off guard by Obama's speech, something that officials hope will be corrected this year.

"I believe our national organization will ask them to communicate more effectively with districts this time around," Julie Thannum, spokeswoman for Carroll school district in Southlake, said in a text message from the conference in North Carolina.

Mansfield schools spokesman Richie Escovedo, who was also attending the conference, said, "It is good that we have the information earlier than last year, but we will wait on having more information from the Department of Education."

Bryan Preston, spokesman for the Republican Party of Texas and Hector Nieto, spokesman for Organizing for America-Texas, a project of the Democratic National Committee, declined to comment.

'Help the president'

In the days before last year's address, parents flooded Texas school districts with letters and phone calls, and the issue dominated political talk radio shows, news and online blogs.

Some parents and conservative organizations expressed concern that the event would "indoctrinate" young people with Obama's political agenda and wanted equal time for alternate viewpoints.

Some parents signed forms for their children to opt out of viewing the address, and others kept their children home that day.

Some objections centered on some of the Education Department's optional lesson ideas, such as that students write letters to themselves on how to "help the president." In the face of heavy criticism, the list was modified to suggest that students write out their educational goals.

The Arlington school district's decision not to show the live speech became national news when it was learned that the district had previously agreed to allow about 500 fifth-graders to be bused to an event later in the month featuring former President George W. Bush.

Arlington scrapped plans for the trip to Cowboys Stadium, although students from other school districts attended.

Arlington Superintendent Jerry McCullough apologized, and while the district did not show it live, students were allowed to miss a half day to watch Obama's speech off-campus.

JESSAMY BROWN, 817-390-7326

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