Obama webcast optional at some area schools

September 3, 2009 (CHICAGO) The White House says the message will be about staying in school and working hard. Some critics say they're worried it will be used to spread socialist ideology.

On conservative talk radio there is outrage.

"At the very least he's stretching if not violating the powers of the executive branch, the constitution, the bill of rights," said one radio caller.

In the Douglas County school district in central Colorado, the phones have been ringing off the hook.

"We've probably had about 40 to 50 calls today and probably about 10 or 12 emails today from parents," said Susan Meek, Colorado school official.

It's a similar story at schools in Chicago suburbs.

Barrington Unit District 220 says the decision whether to watch the speech will be up to teachers, parents and students. Schaumburg Township Elementary District 54 says the viewing will not be mandatory. Naperville District 203 says students can opt out. In Chicago, school officials will have the same policy.

"It's going to be a voluntary thing. Certainly from our perspective we're going to encourage students to be involved and understand what's going on in the greater world all the time," said Ron Huberman, Chicago Public Schools CEO.

What seems to be drawing the most anger are optional lesson plans from the department of education asking students to "write letters to themselves about what they can do to help the president." That has now been changed. The lesson plans ask students to "write letters to themselves about how they can achieve their short-term and long-term education goals."

"The goal of this speech is to encourage students to set goals for themselves. we have a 30% drop out rate in this country. We want that reduced," said Heather Higginbottom, White House Domestic Policy Council. "That was an inartfully worded statement, we changed it, the whole lesson plan speaks to setting goals in increasing their educational achievement.

President Reagan and the first President Bush also gave nationally televised speeches to students.

The White House says it will release the text of president's address Monday so parents and educators can see that the message is entirely about learning, staying in school and taking personal responsibility.

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