Obama's speech optional

Controversy surrounding President Barack Obama's speech to school children on Tuesday kept educators busy Friday as the Clark County School District arranged a news conference to respond to inquiries about the event.

Superintendent Walt Rulffes took a neutral stance on what has become a hot partisan topic. "We are neither endorsing nor prohibiting it," he said.

Interest also was strong at private schools like Faith Lutheran Junior-Senior High School at 2015 Hualapai Way in Summerlin.

"Pretty much all I did (Friday) was respond to e-mails," said Kevin Dunning, the school administrator for Faith Lutheran.

Some conservative critics have charged that the speech is an underhanded attempt at political indoctrination. White House officials have responded that the 15- to 20-minute speech is about getting students to work hard and stay in school.

To ease tensions, local educators have emphasized that the speech would be presented as an option; students will not be required to watch it.

In the public schools, students will need their parents' permission to opt out. Parents are asked to send a note or call their children's school if they are against the speech, officials said.

But Cheyenne High School Principal Jeff Geihs is going one step further and letting students decide for themselves.

"If they don't want to watch it, that's cool," Geihs said. "I'm not going to force it. Many of my students are 18 and voting."

Cheyenne students will have the option of going to the cafeteria, where they can do an alternative class assignment, other homework or read a book.

"They can't be idle," said Geihs, whose high school is at 3200 W. Alexander Road in North Las Vegas.

As a practical matter, it does not appear likely that many students will have an opportunity to watch it live in their classroom.

Teachers will not be showing the speech if it's not relevant to their classes, which rules out subjects like art, gym, math or science, district officials said.

Because the decision to show the speech is being left to the teacher, there's no guarantee that even government teachers will show it.

The speech will be starting too early for most elementary schools, which typically begin their school day just after 9 a.m., Rulffes said.

Contact reporter James Haug at jhaug@reviewjournal.com or 702-374-7917.