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Obama's speech faced reception problems -- technical and otherwise

September 8, 2009 |  7:08 pm

Across the Southland, school districts dealt with varying challenges related to President Obama’s Tuesday address to students, including technical difficulties and parents who did or did not want the speech broadcast during school hours.

For most students in the Los Angeles Unified School District, classes don’t begin until Wednesday. Commonwealth Avenue Elementary was an exception, because it runs on a year-round calendar because of overcrowding. So Commonwealth became the official viewing site for district officials, the media and visiting dignitaries Tuesday morning. A number of Commonwealth students still missed the speech, however, because of technical difficulties.

After Obama’s remarks, a faculty delegation participated in a round table discussion with Deputy Secretary of Education Anthony W. Miller. Participants discussed the benefits and limits of federal stimulus dollars at the campus.

Before the federal bailout arrived, Commonwealth stood to lose as many as 10 of 42 teachers. In the end, three were laid off and two took jobs elsewhere. All three laid-off teachers are currently working in the school as long-term substitutes, but any open permanent slots must soon be filled by laid-off teachers from elsewhere with more seniority, said Principal Young Ae Park.

Nor was the federal money sufficient to prevent some class-size increases. And Park must now share her assistant principal with another school.

“We don’t have manpower to sustain what we have done the past 10 years,” she said, referring to the school’s rising test scores.

Several times she implored Miller for more funding. He was sympathetic but could only note how much money the federal government already had doled out.

Many charter schools also were in session Tuesday, including the new Fernando Pullum Performing Arts High School, which rents space from a church in South Los Angeles. As the president’s speech was about to begin, students were attending a welcoming ceremony in the church sanctuary, equipped with large flat-panel screens. But the screens stayed blank and the students were shuttled off to class.

Principal Germaine DeCree explained, with a bit of chagrin, that the school hadn’t been wired yet and there was no way to show the speech. A taped version will be shown, she said, as soon as the school is capable.

After parents in the La Cañada Unified School District raised concerns about whether most teachers would permit students to watch the speech, Supt. James Stratton issued a statement saying teachers would make that choice themselves.

The district, he said, worked to make sure all classrooms could receive the broadcast. And he asked “teachers to consider how the president’s message on the importance of education and goal-setting could relate to their day’s lessons.”

The speech itself, he said, would qualify as appropriate content for most classes. He also encouraged parents to read the text of Obama’s address.

At Dartmouth Middle School in Hemet, the speech was as verboten as sex education or a movie with mature content. The school’s website noted that “teachers may be showing the president's speech on Thursday to students whose parents have given written permission.”

-- Howard Blume and Mitchell Landsberg

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