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Medford won't carry Obama comments live; Ashland leaves the decision up to teachers

Medford schools Superintendent Phil Long, in a letter to parents Monday, affirmed his decision not to show President Obama's address today live in classrooms.

In the letter posted on the Medford School District's Web site, Long said that the first day of school is not the best time to show the speech, as not all students will be on campuses because of a staggered start schedule.

Campuses that begin school today will be busy registering students and connecting pupils with their teachers, Long said in a phone interview Monday.

He said if the president is encouraging students to stay in school, the speech should be shown on a day when all students are on campus.

Long said he also wants to give district educators time to review the speech and determine how it fits into the district curriculum before showing it in classes.

"I do not doubt that the president's message will be encouraging and motivating," Long said in the the letter. "But it is not time-sensitive. Just as many students across our nation will hear his message two weeks into their school year, so also our students will have the opportunity in the next several weeks. And our parents will have a chance to review his message and the types of activities we may use before we implement them in the classroom."

He said it was likely that some teachers would eventually show the speech in classes.

"I do not know that every grade level and every class will see it," Long said.

Prior to Monday's online letter to parents, Long had sent out a directive to Medford district employees not to show the speech today.

On Thursday, Oregon Sen. Alan Bates said he had received calls from about a dozen Medford teachers who criticized the directive.

Obama's speech, available on the U.S. Department of Education's Web site, encourages students to take responsibility for their educational success.

The Department of Education also has supplied a menu of classroom activities on its Web site to go along with the speech.

The White House has said past presidents have given similar speeches, including former presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

Some conservative critics have said Obama is trying to promote a political agenda in public schools, an allegation the White House has dismissed.

Long said he made his decision for educational reasons.

"In our current cultural environment, people want to politize everything," Long said. "I think I was clear in my follow-up letter to parents that this was an educational decision."

It was unclear Monday how many Jackson County school districts planned to air the speech live. Officials from Central Point, Eagle Point, Phoenix-Talent, Prospect and Rogue River were not available Monday.

Ashland schools Superintendent Juli Di Chiro said she has left the decision about whether to show today's live broadcast up to individual teachers.

"President Bush made an address to students one time, and it didn't get nearly the controversy this is getting," Di Chiro said. "We left the decision up to the teachers then, and we are doing that this time."

As in Medford, not all students will be present on Ashland campuses today, so the timing of the speech is inconvenient, Di Chiro said. Lowerclassmen at the middle school and high school started classes today, while upperclassmen begin Wednesday.

In Butte Falls, Superintendent Tim Sweeney said Obama's speech would not be aired live because the small rural district doesn't have the technology to do so.

"We are going to have to burn it on CDs and give it to teachers," Sweeney said. "We will show it on Wednesday. That will give parents time to view it and decide what they want to do. They would have to notify the school to do that."

Tuesday is the first day of school in Medford, the county's largest school district, but not for all schools and grade levels. Only seventh-graders and freshmen and some sophomores and eighth-graders will be on campuses Tuesday. Upperclassmen begin classes Wednesday.

Some Medford elementary schools also have delayed opening for one to two days because of ongoing construction.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 776-4459 or e-mail pachen@mailtribune.com.