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Nybladh reconsiders handling of Obama speech in schools

Superintendent Larry Nybladh defended the decision to not live broadcast President Barack Obama's speech to Grand Forks students, but told the School Board on Monday that the issue probably should have been handled differently.

Superintendent Larry Nybladh defended the decision to not live broadcast President Barack Obama's speech to Grand Forks students, but told the School Board on Monday that the issue probably should have been handled differently.

He said if he could do it over again and had more time to make the decision, he probably wouldn't have issued a district-wide policy that forbade showing the back-to-school speech live Sept. 8.

"But we would have said something like go ahead and show the speech as long as parents are properly notified according to our policies and practices," he said.

Nybladh said that move probably would have made a big impact on the controversy that has surrounded the decision for weeks. But he said administrators wanted to make sure parents had time to read the speech and decide if they wanted their children to see it in school, and the timing of the federal government's speech announcement made it difficult to air live.

He also told School Board members the decision's controversy is perhaps related to the political split around the country. "Public schools, to continue their work of educating future generations, have had to make concessions in terms of the controversies that sometimes polarize us and that become distracting to the educational environment," he said.


Nybladh said that split among citizens has put schools in the "crossfire" of some of these societal issues, and said it's not a good position when the administration has to make decisions that could just inflame the issues.

"I know what we have evolved into, but is that what we want to be?" he asked members.


Monday was the first time for board members to address the district's decision after being criticized by residents during the last meeting. Tim Lamb said it might have been within the administration's power to make the decision without talking to the board, but said he disagreed with the district-wide directive.

"I don't think it reflects the community values and I don't think that it reflects this top-notch school district that we are," he said. Lamb said it would be important for the district to reassure the public that the decision was well-meaning.

Mike St. Onge said district officials should consider looking at the board controversial issues policy that was used to make the decision because the topic will likely surface again. "I'd like us to be clear and not have this kind of controversy as we go forward," he said.

Roger Pohlman said he thought the administration made the right choice. Still, he said there was "a lot of miscommunication" about the district's decision that probably caused misunderstanding and fueled residents' anger over the policy.

As a "remedy," Lamb introduced a motion that would have made it mandatory for all students in the district to watch the speech in school unless the parents opted out. But the motion wasn't seconded and didn't come up for vote.


Vicki Ericson introduced another motion to provide every school with a DVD of the speech, but toleave the decision on whether to show it up to the individual teachers. The motion passed unanimously, and an amendment by Lamb asked that a link to the video be posted on the board's Web site was added.

The district's decision was also sent to the board's policy review committee to see if anything needs to be changed.

Three citizens spoke at the meeting as well. Nybladh said Grand Forks was not the only district in the state to make the call not to show the speech live, but local attorney David Thompson said the district drew a "bright line" over not being able to show it.

He also questioned the e-mail sent to school staff when the decision was made. One line stated "Principals and teachers can then determine whether the comments are appropriate for the students at their level."

Thompson said it was inappropriate to think that the president's speech wouldn't be appropriate, but Assistant Superintendent Jody Thompson said the word "appropriate" in that context referred to if it was a good fit for grade levels and in a teacher's curriculum.

"I'd like to move on," he said. "I'd like to continue the work that we're paid to do"

Reach Johnson at (701) 780-1105; (800) 477-6572, ext. 105; or send e-mail to rjohnson@gfherald.com .

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