Business as usual in Mehlville on day of Obama address

By EVAN YOUNG

While scores of pupils around the country gave their undivided attention to President Barack Obama during his live address to them last week, it was business as usual in the Mehlville School District.

Superintendent Terry Noble made the decision not to air the Sept. 8 speech live in Mehlville schools. And while critics on both the local and national level are condemning officials like Noble for supposedly “caving in” to the outcry brought forth by Obama’s opponents, the Mehlville superintendent says he was just following district policy.

“Fifteen years ago, very few schools even had written curriculum, so we didn’t have policies to guide us on how we deal with curriculum,” he told the Call Friday. “But anything that enters into the classroom is a curriculum issue. Now that we do have written curriculum that we’re obligated to follow and we have curriculum policies that are set forth by the (school board) that are our responsibility to implement, when in doubt, as administrators, we should look at policy and let policy guide us.”

The White House released the text of Obama’s speech hours before the president was scheduled to deliver it. When he did, Obama urged children to take responsibility for their education by staying in school and working hard. In response to phone calls and e-mails from worried parents, many school districts around the country opted out of the live broadcast. Some, like Mehlville, taped the speech and will leave it up to teachers and other school officials to determine how it fits into their district’s curriculum for a possible viewing later.

“Some could debate whether (the speech) was curricular or not, but if it enters our classrooms as part of the instruction, it’s supposed to be related to curriculum,” Noble said. “Not everybody would agree with that, but the decision … to video it and show it later was mine and not based on the opinion of any Board of Education member or the Board of Education as a whole or any staff members. It was my call.”

The district first learned of the speech the Thursday before it was scheduled to air, Noble said. It would’ve been difficult, therefore, to arrange for students to watch Obama’s address — regardless of what the president had to say, he added.

“We do acknowledge there was a lot of controversy around it,” Noble said. “But that controversy was not something that we created or could really do anything about. It was going to be there whichever way we went with our decision.”

Noble referred to Mehlville’s policy on “videotapes and other media,” which states, in part, that the district must select media materials “for their direct relevance to the instructional program. Staff members must be able to justify the relationship of the media material to the curriculum or lesson being presented/taught and give an accepted rationale for such use.”

A former social studies teacher, Noble said everything he showed his students was “tape delayed.”

“We taped it, we showed it and we made a lesson out of it, whether it was a presidential debate — which obviously would be very politically oriented … very good learning tools. But they didn’t have to be showed live to be effective. The benefit of it is still there, in my opinion.”

However, Board of Education member Karl Frank Jr. told the Call he believes more discussion on the issue is needed.

While he has “a lot of faith” in Noble’s decision-making abilities, Frank said the district’s policy doesn’t specifically address live events such as Obama’s speech.

“It was an extraordinary event, and I think an extraordinary decision was made,” he said.

The board director said he kept his third- and 12th-grade sons home from Blades Elementary and Oakville Senior High schools to watch the president’s speech. He took them to school afterward.

“My third-grader asked me: ‘Is this really happening right now?'” Frank said of his children’s “live moment” with the president. “I thought it would be a big deal for my kids, and it was. It worked out well for my family.”

The Mehlville Board of Education is scheduled to meet at 7 p.m. today — Sept. 17 — at the Administration Building, 3120 Lemay Ferry Road.