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President’s speech to school kids creates controversy

Obama will speak to students Tuesday about the need to work hard and stay in school.

DALLAS — President Barack Obama’s back-to-school address next week was supposed to be a feel-good story for an administration battered over its health care agenda. Now Republican critics are calling it an effort to foist a political agenda on children, creating yet another confrontation with the White House.

Obama plans to speak directly to students Tuesday about the need to work hard and stay in school. His address will be shown live on the White House Web site and on C-SPAN at noon EDT, a time when classrooms across the country will be able to tune in.

Schools don’t have to show it. But districts across the country have been inundated with phone calls from parents and are struggling to address the controversy that broke out after Education Secretary Arne Duncan sent a letter to principals urging schools to watch.

Districts in states including Texas, Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, Virginia, Wisconsin have decided not to show the speech to students. Others are still thinking it over or are letting parents have their kids opt out.

Some conservatives, driven by radio pundits and bloggers, are urging schools and parents to boycott the address. They say Obama is using the opportunity to promote a political agenda and is overstepping the boundaries of federal involvement in schools.

“As far as I am concerned, this is not civics education — it gives the appearance of creating a cult of personality,” said Oklahoma state Sen. Steve Russell. “This is something you’d expect to see in North Korea or in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.”

Arizona state schools superintendent Tom Horne, a Republican, said lesson plans for teachers created by Obama’s Education Department “call for a worshipful rather than critical approach.”

The White House plans to release the speech online Monday so parents can read it. He will deliver the speech at Wakefield High School in Arlington, Va.

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